School is back in session! Unfortunately, this means that lice are back too. Here are 6 ways to prevent the spread of lice & treatment tips for anyone infected with lice in your household.
1. Avoid Head-to-head Contact
The most common method of spreading head lice is through direct contact with hair of an infested person since they don’t fly or jump, but move by crawling only. This type of head-to-head contact is most common during play at school, home, sports activities, playgrounds, slumber parties, and camp.
2. Don’t Share Clothing or Personal Belongings with Others
Although rare, head lice can also be spread by sharing personal belongings such as hats, scarves, uniforms, and coats, or by using personal items such as hair bows, brushes and combs, towels, or by lying on a pillow or couch that has been used by an infested person. It is uncommon for lice to be spread by inanimate objects such as sports helmets or headphones because their claws are not adapted to grasping the smooth and slippery surfaces found on these items. It is also difficult for them to spread by use of wigs and hairpieces as the hair shafts on these do not have the blood supply they need for survival.
3. Disinfect Combs & Brushes
Help to prevent the spread of lice by regularly disinfecting hair care items. You can do this easily by soaking combs, brushes, or other hair tools in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes daily.
4. Know What Lice Look Like
Knowing how to spot a lice infection is key to getting rid of them fast and limiting the spread of lice to other family members. Head lice are found in 3 stages – the egg (or nit), the nymph, and the adult. Nits are eggs laid at the base of a hair shaft. They are very small (about the size of a knot in thread) and very hard to see. They are often yellow or white in color and can be confused for dandruff. They usually take 8-9 days to hatch. The nymph is an immature louse that has recently hatched from a nit. They look like adult lice but are much smaller. They mature into adults in 9-12 days from hatching. Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed, have six legs, and are tan to grayish-white in color.
5. Check for Lice Often
Lice and nits are almost exclusively found on the scalp, especially around the ears and at the neckline. Although uncommon, they can also be found in eyelashes and eyebrows. Signs and symptoms of head lice include a sensation of something moving in the hair or on the scalp, itching, scratching, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and sores on the head from scratching. Lice are most active in August and September and at night.
You can check for lice at home, although they are often hard to find and see. You can have your child checked by a medical professional, school nurse, or your local health department, as well. Because they avoid light, are very small, and very quick, it is often helpful to use a magnifying glass and a fine-toothed comb to check your child’s head.
6. Treat Lice Immediately
If a lice infestation is found, treat your child or family member immediately to limit the spread of lice to the rest of the family. It’s also a good idea to have everyone in the household treated as an added prevention measure.
The optimal time to treat is after nits have hatched but before new eggs have been laid. Because this is nearly impossible to determine, retreatment is often necessary. There are both over-the-counter and prescription strength medications available for treatment. It is also important to not re-wash hair 1-2 days after the initial treatment. The infested persons should put on clean clothes after the treatment. Recheck the scalp 8-12 hours after the initial treatment and comb out any remaining live lice. If there are no dead lice 8-12 hours after initial treatment you may need a different medication. Continue to check and comb the hair every 2-3 days following the initial treatment for 2-3 weeks. This helps prevent reinfestation. Retreatment may be necessary and you should follow the directions on your medication package regarding the frequency and necessity of additional treatments.
Supplemental measures must also be taken in addition to medicinal treatments. These are particularly useful in preventing reinfestation. Machine wash and dry (or dry clean) any clothing, bedding, and other items worn or used by the infested person 2 days prior to the treatment. Another option is to seal all of these items in a plastic bag and store for 2 weeks. Soak combs and brushes in hot water for 5-10 minutes. Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the infested person sat or lay.