There are around 12 million cases of head lice infestation in the United States every year. While there is no particular “season” for head lice, outbreaks tend to peak as kids return to school after summer and then again in January. Head lice don’t discriminate against any socioeconomic groups. They nest themselves mostly in children 3-11 years old regardless of the health, hygiene, or cleanliness of their unwilling hosts. Head lice infestations are more common in girls because they usually have longer hair, and they exchange hairbrushes and accessories frequently.
What Are Head Lice?
Lice are wingless insects that are the size of sesame seeds. They feed exclusively on human blood for 4-6 hours a day and lay between 4-5 eggs a day. The eggs are called “nits” and are laid close to the scalp to keep the eggs warm. In warmer weather, nits can be found farther away from the scalp. Lice cannot jump or fly; they can only crawl. Head lice are spread via head-to-head contact or by sharing brushes, combs, hair accessories, bedding, hats, helmets…etc.
An itchy scalp is a typical symptom but is not the case for all patients. Many individuals are asymptomatic but are still ¨carriers¨. It could take up to 2-4 weeks for the patient to even notice the itching if they notice it at all. The itching is caused by an immunologic response to lice saliva and excretions.
To check for head lice, sit your child under a bright light and separate their hair into sections. Search each section for both lice and eggs (nits). Both lice and nits are typically found in the hair around the ear or the nape of the neck. Nits will look like seeds attached to hair follicles and will be challenging to detach from hair (unlike dandruff). Nits have a grey or caramel color when initially laid, and then turn yellow to white when they have hatched already. Adult lice and nymphs (baby lice) are grayish-white or tan.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT A HEAD LICE INFESTATION?
You can best prevent a head lice infestation by teaching kids not to share items that touch their heads. Hats, scarves, towels, headbands, brushes, and even earbuds make great places for lice to hang out until they can crawl onto another head.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR SCHOOL REPORTS A HEAD LICE INFESTATION?
CLOSELY INSPECT YOUR CHILD’S HAIR.
Check household items that can get infested with lice and nits such as towels, rugs, and bedding.
Look closely at the clothes your child has worn during the past two days for lice and nits
Tell your child not to make head-to-head contact with other kids and repeat the message to stop sharing anything that touches the head.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND LICE/NITS:
There are many over-the-counter lice treatments, lice shampoos, and home remedies for lice. Unfortunately, many of these lice treatment methods contain toxic chemicals, and without lots of lice removal experience, one can easily miss a few nits (louse eggs) and inadvertently create a colony of “super lice” that are resistant to lice treatment.
SHOULD YOU TREAT OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS AND FRIENDS?
It is common for people in close proximity to get head lice from a carrier. Check everyone in the family every day for 10-15 days.
STOP THE EPIDEMIC
As parents, teachers and health care providers, we are all responsible for educating our children on how to prevent a head lice infestation. Remember, head lice can’t jump or fly. The best solution is to stay clear of touching heads and sharing items that touch the hair.