Since the kids are back in school, lice still is a yearly topic of concern. A couple of years ago I had done an article about lice and thought it was probably time to review it. Being a former school nurse for 15 years, I have dealt extensively with lice. It is a common problem for all schools and mainly affects children ages 3-10 years of age. As many as 12-14 million people a year, become affected with lice. Lice have been around since the beginning of time.
Here are some lice terms that I will use in this article.
· Nits – head lice eggs. These look like tear drops on the hair shaft, that do not brush off.
· Nymphs – baby lice. These are about the size of a pencil tip. ( . )
· Adult lice – an adult the size of a sesame seed.
Head lice are very tiny oval reddish-brown wingless insects about 1/8” long that crawl very fast and feed off the blood of the human scalp. To tell if your child has lice, look for the nits which are whitish oval tear drops at the nap of the neck and behind the ears. If you see a nit and it doesn’t come off when pulled, then you need to take action and treat. These nits are attached by the insects glue and do not brush away. The nits will hatch within 1 to 2 weeks. The nymphs become adult lice in about 7 days after hatching. Each adult louse can lay 6-8 eggs a day, up to 100-400 eggs a month! Each live louse will live about 30 days. Lice need to feed about every 4-6 hours. Even though lice need to feed off the human scalp to survive, they can live off the head approximately three days. All this probably makes you itchy – but lets continue. . .
Another observable sign of a problem is that the child is itching their head quite frequently. If lice are present, itching is a sign of feeding. Not all individuals will show signs of itching. Upon inspection, you will see nits behind the ears or at the nap of the neck. Lice do not like light so under a good light, part the hair with your fingers at the crown of the head; sometimes you will see them running. But remember, lice CANNOT jump, hop or fly. Your child might develop small red bumps or sores from scratching and it is not uncommon to develop some swelling of the lymph glands.
Lice are very contagious. But remember you can’t get lice from your pets. Lice are host specific and will only live on the proper specie. Lice can spread from person to person, especially in group settings. Other ways of possibly catching lice is from sharing combs, brushes, scarves, helmets, hats, ribbons, towels, pillowcases, carpets, beds, couch’s or even snuggling in your seat at the movies. (You don’t know who’s’ head has been there before you!) There is also a small possibility you could catch a nit on a stray hair, trying on clothes at a department store. (It is probably rare, but could happen.) So anyone can get lice. It doesn’t mean you are dirty. It just means you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. If one person in your household has lice, be sure to check all other members. Also report this to your child’s group setting, whether it is school, church, daycare, Scouts, ball teams, etc. It is hard to fight this problem on your own.
After you have discovered that you or your child has lice, it is time to treat. Your pharmacist can help you pick out an over the counter treatment. It is very important that you follow the directions EXACTLY. Therefore it is important that an adult administer the treatment. Any deviation can result in the lice not being killed. Remember not to treat in the shower or a bath tub because the medicine is a pesticide; treat the child’s head over the sink. After treating, it is then essential that you comb ALL of the nits OUT. First get the tangles out of the hair with a regular comb then in very small sections use a metal lice comb to comb the nits out. Some treatments have a plastic comb with the medication. There are differences in lice combs. Hold the plastic comb up to the light, you can see through it. The nits can also slide easily through the comb and not get removed. If you hold a metal comb up to the light you will see that the light is very diffuse, because the teeth are very close together, so combing will slice the eggs out, helping to make nit removal more successful You can only be 100% clear of lice if all the nits are removed from the head. After treating, it is very difficult to distinguish between which is a viable nit or an empty nit casing. (By the time it would take you to figure this out, you would be more successful removing all nits to be sure they are gone.) Treatment kills lice and about 50-70% of the nits; therefore it is ESSENTIAL to remove ALL nits or a new case of lice could possibly start up again. Be sure to follow the manufacture’s directions, it may say to be sure and treat again in two weeks. This is because a second hatching would be approximately 7-10 days after the first treatment.
After treating the individual, it is very important to treat the environment. Wash all towels, bedding and clothes that have been used recently. Be sure to dry clothes in a hot dryer. Dry clean any items that cannot be washed. Wash all combs and brushes in Lysol, or soap and hot water. Vacuum the house and be sure not to forget your car seats. Concentrate your cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom. (This is where hair tends to catch on the floor.) Be vigilant in your vacuuming for several days. (What you miss one day, you can catch the next.) You don’t have to spend money on lice sprays. Unless the spray is a direct hit, it probably will not kill the lice, so save your money. The biggest concern is if the spray is inhaled, it could be toxic.
Remember to tell your child not to share combs, brushes, scarves, helmets, hats, or ribbons. Also teach your child about having their own personal space around their head so not to rub heads with other kids. Don’t wait till you see signs of head lice. Be sure to check your child’s head several times a week. You can’t pre treat to prevent lice, so you have to be aggressive in inspecting for it. It has been theorized that over use of lice treatment has developed resistant lice; therefore it is harder to kill. That is why it is so important to only treat when you see live insects, along with total nit removal.