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Head Lice

Each year, more than six million cases of head lice are reported among school-age children; in some areas infestation with head lice has reached epidemic proportions. Having head lice is no longer believed to be a sign of poor hygiene or squalid living standards. Head lice are bugs about the size of sesame seeds. Lice feed on human blood and louse bites cause severe itching and red spots that look like mosquito bites. Adult lice are hardly ever seen. Instead, the "nits" or eggs are usually seen on the hair shafts and appear similar to dandruff. Lice spread fast. No matter how clean your child is, he or she can become infested quickly from anyone who has lice, particularly in a school or daycare setting. Lice lay about 6 eggs a day. The eggs hatch in 8-10 days and the newly-hatched lice then start biting.

See Your Doctor If...

  • Your child has open sores on his or her head from scratching
  • Lice or nits are in the eyebrows or eyelashes, or on the skin
  • Red bite marks are present
  • Your child has swollen lymph glands in the neck
  • Your child is under 2 years of age
  • Your child has allergies or other health problems
  • Over-the-counter insecticidal shampoos are ineffective

Self-Care Tips...

  • Use insecticidal shampoos, lotions, or creams made just for lice - use with caution and only as directed. Don't use bug spray on lice!
  • After shampoo, rinse with equal parts white vinegar and water to help remove nits
  • Check everyone in the household for lice and nits but only treat those with lice!
  • Don't use too much shampoo and do it over the sink (not in the bath or shower) because it is only for the head and neck
  • Wear gloves if you have open sores on your hands
  • Remove nits by shining a flashlight on the hair roots. Start in one spot and go strand by strand. Nits are gray and may be hard to see, particularly in blond hair. Use tweezers, a nit comb,
  • or your fingernails. Vinegar will help loosen the nits.
  • Soak all combs, brushes, and barrettes for 1 to 2 hours in insecticidal shampoo or for 10 minutes in hot (not boiling) water
  • Check for nits every day for 10 days
  • Shampoo again in one week to kill any newly hatched nits
  • Wash bedding and clothes right away in water hotter than 125 degrees F. If you can't wash something, put it in a sealed plastic bag for 2 weeks (lice will die without blood).
  • Dry-clean clothes and hats that you can't wash
  • Vacuum all mattresses, pillows, rugs, cloth-covered furniture, car seats, toys, and stuffed animals. Do this especially where children play. Put the vacuum cleaner bags outside in the trash

Prevention Tips...

  • Check your children for head lice and nits once a week. Look behind the ears and on the back of the neck. If nits are found in the hair, check the eyelashes.
  • Tell your child not to share hats, brushes, combs, or pillows
  • Wash hair and bathe often
  • Change bed sheets often, wash them in hot water and dry in a dryer
  • Vacuum furniture and toys in play areas often
  • If your child has head lice, inform anyone whose children may have been close to your child. Be sure to call your child's school or daycare center.
  • Wash combs and brushes often and soak in hot (not boiling) water for 10 minutes

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