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What is Head Lice?

Head lice are tiny brown and gray insects that live on the human scalp. They are about the size of sesame seeds. Lice move quickly and can blend in with a person's hair. Lice lay eggs in the hair. The eggs are whitish in color and are called nits. They attach to strands of hair with a glue-like substance. Lice feed on human blood. They crawl from a strand of hair to the scalp to feed. This causes the scalp to itch. Six to twelve million people are infested with head lice a year.

People who get head lice often feel embarrassed or unclean. Head lice are not caused by poor hygiene. Anyone can get head lice-although they are more common in children. Head lice are annoying, but they can be treated.


Prevention

Teach your child not to share certain items. Head lice cannot jump or fly. They can spread from person to person through direct contact. They're also passed by sharing certain items with a person who has head lice, including; combs and brushes, barrettes and hairclips, hats, scarves, helmets and headphones, sleeping bags, pillows, sheets and towels. Remind other family members not to share anything that may come in contact with hair.

Signs of head lice include repeated scratching and complaints of itchiness. Check all family members for lice often. Use a magnifying glass and a bright light. You may notice lice or nits in the hair at the base of the neck or behind the ears. Call your health care provider if you think you or a family member may have lice. Notify your child's caregiver, teacher, or school nurse.


Treatment

If you plan to use lice treatment, ask your health care provider or pharmacist to recommend an over-the-counter lice treatment. Treatments include special shampoos and lotions. Be sure to indicate if the person needing treatment is pregnant, breastfeeding, under two years of age, or has allergies, asthma, epilepsy or any other medical condition. Ask about all risks and benefits of treatment. Do not use a hairdryer on your child's hair after scalp treatments because some of them contain flammable ingredients. Medicated shampoos, creams, and lotions can end a lice infestation right away, but it may take about five days for the itching to stop.

Follow all instructions exactly. If not properly used, a lice treatment can cause health problems, such as rashes or trouble breathing. Never use it on the eyelashes or eyebrows. Remove remaining lice and nits by hand. Talk to your health care provider if treatment fails to get rid of all lice and nits. He or she can suggest another product, if necessary. (Don't use a lice treatment more often or longer than recommended.)


Removing Lice

Use a bright light and a magnifying glass to help spot them. Separate hair into sections. Work on one section at a time. Use a nit comb (or a fine-tooth comb) to carefully remove lice and nits. You can also cut individual strands of hair with safety scissors or pull nits off with tweezers or your fingernails. (Cutting the hair or shaving the head is not necessary.) Dip the comb in water often, or use paper towels to wipe lice and nits from the comb. Throw the paper towels away in a sealed plastic bag. Search the entire head carefully. Be sure not to leave any lice or nits in the hair. Nits could hatch into new lice in just a few days. Check the person everyday for at least two weeks. If you find more lice or nits, remove them. Call your health care provider for advice. Never use a lice spray or put pet shampoo, kerosene or chemical products on a person to kill lice or nits. (Lice sprays are insecticides meant for objects, not people.)


Getting Lice Out of Your Home

To kill lice and nits (attached to fallen hairs) around your home:


Questions and Answers

Can home remedies get rid of lice?

Some may help as part of a treatment plan. For example, rinsing the hair with white vinegar may help loosen nits, making them easier to comb out. Before you try any home remedy, ask your health care provider, pharmacist, or health department for advice.

What are the risks of untreated head lice?

The biggest risk is that lice can spread to family members, classmates, and others. They can also cause severe itching and discomfort. In some cases, scratching can lead to skin irritation and infections.

When can my child go back to school?

Many schools require a child to be completely free of lice and nits before he or she can return to school. Ask your child's teacher, principal or school nurse for information.