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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Head Lice Is A Pesky Nuisance

Head Lice Is A Pesky Nuisance

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Thu, Nov. 02, 2006

By Francie Wise, RN, MPH

RECENTLY, a mom with two school-aged children called the county health department wanting to know how to keep head lice from recurring in her children's hair. Both had been infested and reinfested, on and off, for months.

Not only did other children at school keep infesting her children and other children, but she had great difficulty eradicating the lice from her children's hair.

Head lice are small insects that crawl from one place to another. They do not fly or jump like fleas. They may be especially difficult to find on dark hair, but you should look for them when your child complains of an itchy head.

This itching is caused by the lice biting the scalp, and although not dangerous, can be quite annoying. Lice eggs, called nits, are a little easier to see, especially on dark hair.

The nits are tiny but they are white and can best be seen on the hair shaft near the back of the head. They look like dandruff, but cling to the hair shaft, and are hard to remove. By contrast, flecks of dandruff are easily wiped from the hair shaft.

Head lice (one is called a louse) are spread from one infested person to another through close contact. Sharing hats, combs/brushes, helmets, barrettes and headphones are common ways to spread lice.

Floor mats such as those used for tumbling and in common play areas also can spread the parasites.

A number of nonprescription lotions containing pyrethrin or permethrin are effective for treating lice. Household items such as mayonnaise and olive oil do not work for getting rid of lice.

It is important to use the anti-lice lotion correctly. Lice are pesky, and one must be very thorough to get rid of them.

  • Follow the package directions for the lotion carefully.
  • You need to carefully pick the nits out of the hair after you have used the lotion and killed the lice because the lotion does not kill all the nits.
  • Remove nits daily with a metal nit comb or a fine tooth comb. Nit combs are available at your local pharmacy.
  • Remove nits that cannot be combed out by either picking them out or cutting the hair where the egg is attached.
  • Soak combs, brushes, and hair products in soapy water for one hour, or boil them for five minutes.
  • Wash all bedding, towels and clothes in hot water, and dry in a hot dryer, at the same time you treat the whole family for head lice.
  • Carefully seal any playthings that cannot be washed, such as soft toys or pillows, in a plastic bag (tie the top or use those with a zipper lock) for at least 10 days.
  • Vacuum and wipe any shared surfaces such as tumbling mats with a mild disinfectant.
  • Avoid using household cleaners on your child's head; this is dangerous.

If the head lice problem persists despite treatment, reread the directions carefully, ask other parents to check their children for lice and talk to their teachers.

If two treatments of over-the-counter lice products don't work, call your health care provider.

For information about head lice, visit Contra Costa Health Services Web site.

Wise is the Director of Communicable Disease Programs and Public Health Nursing for Contra Costa Health Services.

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