Head Lice and Prevention/Cure

Head lice are common problem among kids especially between the ages 3-12 yrs. Lice are not so dangerous but they might cause irritation and itchiness on the head. And they are contagious too! 

Picture Courtesy: Medline Plus

What is a Louse?
A Louse (Lice in plural) is a small flightless parasitic insect which lives on the bodies of humans and other mammals and infests human skin and hair.
The louse's body is flattened. The eggs, or nits, are cemented to the hair or plumage of the host, and most species spend their entire lives on the bodies of host animals. Heavy infestations cause much irritation and may lead to secondary infections. In moving from host to host, lice may spread many diseases, including tapeworm infestation in dogs and murine typhus in rats.
How can we find out lice on a person’s head?
Even though lice are very small, they can be easily seen by the naked eye. We can feel them by:
  • Ticklish feeling on the head/hair
  • Feeling like itching frequently
  • Sores we get by scratching often
How do we get them?
Head lice are easily spreadable from one person to another. Especially when we come in contact with any infested person or use the same clothing or bed or even using the same hair brush, lice are easily transferred from that person’s head to ours. These head lice can easily be seen among school children.
Head lice mostly infect our hair. They lay tiny eggs on the hair that look like flakes of dandruff. But they don’t fall away from the scalp like dandruff and stay put.
Their lifetime is 30 days on a human being, but the eggs live for more than 2 weeks.
How to prevent them?
Make sure not to use the same hair brushes or combs, bedding, towels or clothes that a person who has head lice used.
Avoid direct contact with persons who are infested with head lice.
Parents and schools should be educated about the head lice. We should keep in mind that having head lice has nothing to do with social status or personal hygiene. It’s so common in people, especially in children.
What’s the cure?

Getting rid of head lice requires treating the individual, the family, and the household.
Treat the individual and the family -- This requires using an over-the-counter or prescription lice- killing medicine. Treat only persons who are infested. Remember that all lice-killing products are pesticides. Follow these treatment steps:
  • Remove all clothing.
  • Apply lice-killing medicine, also called pediculicide [peh-DICK-you-luh-side], according to label instructions. If the affected person has extra-long hair, you may need to use a second bottle.
  • WARNING: Do not use a creme rinse or combination shampoo/conditioner before using lice-killing medicine. Do not re-wash hair for 1-2 days after treatment.
  • Have the affected person put on clean clothing after treatment.
  • If some live lice are still found but are moving more slowly than before treatment, do not re-treat. Comb dead and remaining live lice out of the hair. The medicine sometimes takes longer than the time recommended on the package to kill the lice.
  • After treatment, if no dead lice are found and lice seem as active as before, the medicine may not be working. See your health-care provider for a different medicine. Follow treatment instructions.
  • Remove nits and lice from the hair shaft using a nit comb, often found in lice-killing medicine packages. Flea combs used for cats and dogs can also be used.
  • After treatment, check, comb, and remove nits and lice from the hair every 2-3 days.
  • Re-treat in 7-10 days.
  • Check all treated persons for 2-3 weeks until you are sure all lice and nits are gone.
Treat the household:
  • To kill lice and nits, machine wash all washable clothing and bed linens that the infested person touched during the 2 days before they were diagnosed. Wash clothes and linens in the HOT water cycle (130 F). Dry items on the hot cycle for at least 20 minutes.
  • Dry clean clothing that is not washable (coats, hats, scarves, etc.). OR
  • Seal all non-washable items (clothing, stuffed animals, comforters, etc.) in a plastic bag for 2 weeks.
  • Soak combs and brushes for 1 hour in rubbing alcohol or Lysol, or wash with soap and hot water.
  • Vacuum the floor and furniture. Do not use lice sprays; they can be toxic if inhaled.
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use head-lice medications.
  • Consult a health-care provider before using lice-killing products on a person who has allergies, asthma, or other medical conditions.
  • Do not use extra amounts of lice-killing medicines.
  • Do not use lice-killing medicines on the eyebrows or eyelashes.