Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Head Lice and Kids

According to Bupa:

What are head lice?
Head lice are wingless insects. They are grey or brown, have six legs and are about 1 to 3mm in length when fully grown. Female lice lay eggs that are smaller than a pinhead and these attach to your hair close to the scalp. The eggs hatch about seven to 10 days later. Young lice are called nymphs - it takes about 10 days for them to become adults and capable of laying new eggs.
When lice hatch they leave empty shells called nits attached to the hair. You may mistake them for flakes of dry skin. Unlike dandruff, nits stick to the hair and you won't be able to remove them with normal shampooing.

What are the symptoms of head lice?
The obvious symptom is an itchy scalp.
Other signs of possible head lice infestation include:

  • nits stuck to the hairs as they grow out

  • pillows being dirtier due to louse droppings
Who gets head lice?
Anyone can get head lice, but they are most common in children aged four to 11. This may be because of their close contact with each other at school. Girls seem to be more likely to get them than boys.

You can only get head lice through head-to-head contact. They can't hop, fly or swim. Head lice can only live for a short time away from the scalp and those found away from the head are usually dying.

Head lice can be found in all types and lengths of hair - having head lice is not a sign that your hair is dirty. They are found just as often in clean hair.

Treatment for head lice:
Insecticides for treating lice are available as lotions, liquids or shampoos. These are either alcohol-based or water-based and there doesn't seem to be any difference in effectiveness between the two.

Alcohol-based insecticides aren't suitable for everyone, particularly if you have eczema or asthma, so it's usually recommended that you use water-based products. These are also recommended for young children.

Here's the story we ran on WHOI this week:

Head lice is one of the most contagious conditions among children, not to mention hard to get rid of. After hearing reports of lice infestations at two separate schools in Tazewell County, we asked the State Health Department what you need to know to protect your child. They say it's more of a nuisance than a danger, but the stereotype that only people with poor hygiene get lice is false.

Lice just need some sort of direct contact to travel so teaching our kids to share with each other may be contributing to lice outbreaks. Local teachers say girls tend to share combs and clothes and boys share athletic equipment.

The Health Department says the easiest way to treat lice break outs is with over the counter treatments. Heat is another way to kill it around your house so washing contaminated clothes in hot water or putting them in the dryer for 20 minutes will help.

Have any of you had to deal with this? My kids haven't, luckily! Do you have any stories about head lice going around your child's school. I hear it spreads like crazy!

UPDATE: Here's a link to natural lice remedies. Some moms on another blog say they worked for them!

-NewsAnchorMom Jen


rachel b said...

I teach in an elementary school near the Bloomington/Normal area. Although we have a "no-nit" policy, the school nurse does not send students home when nits and/or lice are found. Instead she picks the eggs and/or lice out of the students' hair. This fall, we had at least two students with lice from August until Christmas. I don't know what the offical guidelines are for treating students with nits/lice, but I do know that when a dog gets fleas, the proper treatment is NOT to yank each and every one of them out. So why would we do that with lice?!

Maria said...

There are non-chemical ways to rid the head of lice, and if my son ever gets lice, I will be using those rather than applying a chemical pesticide!

Diane Vespa said...

I can't stop itching as I am reading this. Probably at some point our family, too, will face this unpleasant situation, but it can't be worse than some other things we have all undoubtedly done as Moms.

newsanchormom.com said...

There is a non-chemical approach to treating lice, but every mom I have talked to says it doesn't work. However, it's worth a shot, especially if your kids aren't in school.

Here's the info:
Wet combing or "bug busting"
This is a method of removing lice with the regular use of a fine-toothed comb (the teeth of the comb must be 0.2 to 0.3mm apart). You need to comb through the entire head of hair every four days for at least two weeks. It's important that you keep doing this until there have been three consecutive sessions without seeing any lice.

You can get a "bug-busting" kit on prescription, from a pharmacy or from the charity Community Hygiene Concern. The kit contains four specially designed combs and detailed advice.

Wet combing doesn't involve strong chemicals, and lice can't become resistant to it. It can also be used to routinely check the hair for infection. However, there is little good evidence to say how well it works compared to insecticides.

Alternative treatments
You may also wish to try using dimeticone. This isn't an insecticide - instead it coats the surface of the lice. It's recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding as it has a good safety record. However, it's not thought to be as effective in removing eggs.

Other treatments are available that contain essential oils (including tea tree), herbal extracts or homeopathic tinctures. There is no scientific evidence to show that these work. It's important to remember that even though these products may be called "natural", they can still be harmful.

Putting insecticides on a child's head certainly sounds alarming. If anyone has had success with any of these alternative treatments, please let us know!

And yes, Diane, I was so itchy after writing this post!

Maria said...

Check out this lady's post/links...


She tends to be extremely on top of these things. LOL! If you look in the comments, people had problems with the "traditional" shampoos and success with "alternative" methods.

Anonymous said...

God bless the school nurse who sits and "nit-picks". Yes- Rachel, you have to remove EVERY nit or they will hatch and your nightmare will begin all over again.

I'm sorry this is going to be long.

When we had our one and hopefully only lice infestation 10 yrs ago, we used everything: OTC Rid-X, RX-insecticide, and natural- olive oil for 30 minutes to smother them. They are hard to kill and again, you must nit-pick for days and days to make sure you have eliminated every single one. I don't know if products and combs have improved. Our biggest issue was that the nits are literally super-glued to individual hair strands near the scalp and nothing really loosened them the comb was never fine enough to help pull them off. We did it all by hand.

We simplified our cleaning routine by removing most bedding and each child slept with one pillow, fitted sheet and one favorite blanket. Then every morning the bedding was removed and washed and dried with high heat. Meanwhile all stuffed toys, dress up costumes, fabric of any kind-pillows, dolls was removed to huge garbage bags and not returned for about 6 weeks- because, again, once the nightmare is over, you don't want it again. Daily vacuuming ensued in the entire house. I am a relaxed mom but after the first treatment failed, we fought it with our full attention.

In hindsight, we learned others avoided the major school/neighborhood infestation by shampooing at least once a day and drying the hair with a hot dryer and using hair spray and checking heads regularly once there was any mention of lice.

I think they are easier to get than your article mentions. I think they live longer than "experts" admit. I think the neighbor girl "dropped them" on our couch and that's how we got them... so I don't agree with the head to head transfer. Susan T

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