Millions of American children get head lice every year. We are seeing some students with lice in the school district as the school year is underway. The more parents know about lice, the better prepared they are to deal with a lice infestation.
Lice are tiny insects, about as big as sesame seeds, that live on the human scalp. They cannot fly or jump; they can only crawl. Lice hatch from eggs called nits. Nits are tiny, yellowish-brown to white, tear-drop shaped and attached to the hair shaft close to the scalp. Nits hatch in about 6-10 days. Female lice are fully mature 9 to 12 days after hatching and are then capable of laying eggs. Lice can be spread as long as they remain alive on the infested person or their clothing. Unattached to the body and without a human host, head lice survive for approximately 6-24 hours.
Head lice may be hard to locate because they move quickly and shy away from light. Nits are easier to see and are usually located at the nape of the neck and behind the ears. Nits are attached to the hair and are usually about ½ inch from the scalp. Parents should routinely check their children’s hair for nits.
The most common symptom of lice infestation is itching. To effectively treat a lice infestation use Shampoos or cream rinses that contain 1% permethrin, they have the fastest killing time against adult lice and the highest nit-killing capability. Permethrin has a residual effect that will continue to kill nits for several days after the first application. There are also prescription medications that can be requested from your physician. Nits must be combed out to prevent re-infestation. This should be done daily, sometimes two times a day.
Bed linens, clothing, personal items and household surfaces must also be appropriately cleaned. Stuffed animals should be placed in a sealed plastic bag for 2 weeks if unable to be washed. Hair accessories, combs, brushes should either be boiled in hot water or soaked in rubbing alcohol for one hour. Carpeted surfaces and couches should be vacuumed with the vacuum bag being discarded after.
Preventing a lice infestation is easier than treating one. Direct physical head-to-head contact is the usual method of transmission. Parents please talk with your children and remind them not to share combs, brushes, headbands, hats, shirts, headphones, or pillows. Head-to-head contact should be avoided as much as possible. Also remember when in stores to avoid trying on hats or other things that could transmit lice. Head lice is not a serious medical condition. No child should be singled out or embarrassed when checking for or treating head lice. It can happen to anyone at any age.
Please click here for a fact sheet from the Wisconsin Department of Pubic Health
Please click here for a fact sheet from the Wisconsin Department of Pubic Health in Spanish
Please click here for a fact sheet from the Wisconsin Department of Pubic Health in Hmong