Head Lice

Lice are tiny, wingless parasitic insects that live mainly at the back of the head and behind the ears. They live by feeding on extremely small amounts of blood drawn from the scalp, which causes intense itching. Although they may sound gross, lice (the plural of louse) are a very common problem, especially for kids ages 3 years to 12 years (girls more often than boys).

Lice aren’t dangerous and they don’t spread disease, but they are contagious and annoying. Their bites may cause a child’s scalp to become itchy and inflamed, and persistent scratching can lead to skin irritation and even infection.

Fast-spreading infestations of head lice are most common in the fall, when children return to school. The sooner you catch an infestation in one child, the easier it is to prevent spread to other children.

Head lice are nothing to be ashamed of, especially if embarrassment prevents people from treating the problem. Having head lice is not a sign of uncleanliness or poor hygiene. The pesky little bugs can be a problem for kids of all ages and socioeconomic levels, no matter how often they do — or don’t — clean their hair or bathe.

A louse egg, or nit, is about this size: (-). Adult lice are about four times bigger. There will be numerous nits and lice in one infestation. Eggs hatch in 10 days. Each louse lives for 20 to 30 days, and the female can lay as many as six eggs a day.

Anyone can get lice. Since head lice can’t jump or fly, transmission is from person-to-person by direct body contact, or less often by indirect contact from sharing hairbrushes, combs, caps, scarves, coats, sheets, pillowcases, helmets and headphones.

Symptoms of head lice infection include:

There are a lot of myths about head lice that shouldn’t be believed. You don’t have to shave the head to get rid of lice. You don’t need kerosene to eliminate infestations. Short hair won’t prevent them.

If your child does get lice, there are two things you must do: Inform the school or day-care center of the problem so other children can be checked, and then treat the problem with a few simple steps.

Once treatment is begun, check with his school about its return policy. Some schools require a child to be nit-free before returning to school.

Head lice infect only humans, so there is no need to treat your pet.

If you supervise a daily shampoo of your child’s hair, you are more likely to spot an infestation early. Teach him to practice good hygiene habits. This includes not sharing hair-care items (combs, brushes, clips, etc.), clothing, bedding, hats, cell phones, head phones, helmets and similar items with other children. Teach children to wash their hands frequently and well.

As many parents know firsthand, lice infestation can be a persistent nuisance, especially in group settings. If you feel like you’re following every recommendation and your child still has lice, it may be because:

There’s no doubt that they can be hard bugs to get rid of. If your child still has lice for two weeks after you’ve started treatment or if your child’s scalp looks infected, call your doctor.

No matter how long the problem lasts, be sure to emphasize to your child that although having lice can certainly be very embarrassing, anyone can get them. It’s important for kids to understand that they haven’t done anything wrong and that having lice doesn’t make them dirty.

Your child’s day-care center or school should have a firm head lice policy to prevent rapid spreading. School nurses and teachers should be aware of the signs. When lice are identified, they have usually been present for many days, and perhaps weeks.  Therefore, it is usually not beneficial for children to be removed from school or day care because of lice.

Infested children should be treated promptly to prevent spreading to others.

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