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The Down and Dirty on Head Lice

Aaron Beck, MD Aaron Beck, MD July 23, 2013 0 Comments Family Medicine

Your kids bring home a lot of things from school: art projects, homework, playground stories, and permission slips.  But some things, you’d prefer they left behind…like head lice.

Sometimes though, these things happen, no matter how many baths they take. If your child does come home with head lice, don’t get too worried, because lice pose no real health risk.  Lice are more of an annoyance than a health risk (which means you do NOT need to come into the clinic for an appointment.)  The treatment process is slow and tedious. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to prevent head lice from spreading, especially among children.

Lice are usually spread when your head comes into direct contact with an infested person’s head or hair.   They can also be spread by sharing clothes or things that the lice or nits (lice eggs) have attached to, which is less common.  Getting head lice from carpet or furniture isn’t likely, because head lice can only live 1-2 days once they fall off a human and no longer have a food source.  Once nits fall off and are exposed to a different temperature, other than that of the scalp, they are unable to hatch and generally die in about a week.

Here are a few tips for preventing and controlling the spread of head lice.

  1. Avoid contact with another person’s head and hair.
  2. Avoid sharing clothes, such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms and hair ribbons.
  3. Avoid sharing combs, brushes, and towels.  Disinfect combs and brushes after being used by an infected person by soaking them in hot water – (at least 130⁰F) – for about 5-10 minutes.
  4. Avoid lying down on beds, pillows, carpets, furniture, or stuffed animals that have been touched by a person with head lice.
  5. Wash any clothing items, bed sheets, and other items that the person wore two days prior to receiving treatment.  The items should be machine washed with hot water and then dried on your dryer’s hottest temperature setting.
  6. Be sure to vacuum the floors and furniture in which the person came in contact.
  7. Never use sprays to fumigate an area – they are not needed to prevent the spread of head lice and may be poisonous.
  8. Examine your child’s head when he or she has come in close contact with a person infected with lice.

If you think your child has lice, utilize the preventative measures listed above to control the spread, and contact your child's physician immediately; it is important to start treatment as soon as possible.