The word "lice" strikes fear in the hearts of parents everywhere. Lice are small wingless parasites that feed on the blood supply of a host. Lice attach themselves to hair follicles. Once attached, the lice lay eggs called nits. Nits usually hatch within 2 weeks after they are laid. Although the lice parasite is an equal opportunity offender, lice infestation is most commonly spread amongst school-age children. Having lice can be embarrassing for children: It is important for children to be reassured that lice infestation is not a sign of poor hygiene.
Lice is very contagious and is passed through direct contact with the parasite or through shared contact with infested belongings. Items such as combs, brushes, towels, pillows and hats become ready carriers for lice.
Lice are small but can be seen with the naked eye. Lice are usually no larger than a sesame seed. Nits resemble dandruff and can range in color.
Once lice infestation is confirmed, it is important to begin treatment. Treatment should be completed in a timely and efficient manner. Failure to follow treatment instructions can lead to super infestations and infection.
- Inform others with whom you have been in close contact. If the infested individual is a child, it is the parent's responsibility to disclose this information. It may seem a little difficult, but this is a necessary step. Since lice infestation is so contagious, everyone in close contact with the infested individual needs to be thoroughly checked for lice. Failure to inform others could result in reinfestation or a lice outbreak.
- Check other household members for lice infestation. Because of the close contact, it is common for multiple family members to have lice infestations.
- Consult your doctor to find a medicated lice treatment. Lice treatments are available in a range of forms including lotions, shampoos and creams. Over-the-counter and prescription preparations are readily available. The medication recommended by your doctor will depend on the age and health of the infested individual. Special consideration must be given to certain conditions including asthma and allergies. Severity of the lice infestation will also be taken into account. Be sure to provide details including the onset of the infestation.
- Purchase a fine-toothed comb to manually remove remaining lice and nits. Medicated lice treatments may not kill all of the nits or lice. You should divide the hair into small sections and carefully remove the remaining parasites. If you are the one suffering from the lice infestation, ask someone else to help you with this process. This manual removal process should be done every few days for at least 2 weeks.
- Use hot water to wash all clothing and bed linens that have been in close contact with infested individuals. Place the items in the dryer to complete this cleaning process.
- Dry clean any objects or materials that are not machine washable. These items may include pillows, stuffed animals or bed linens. You may even consider throwing out older items.
- Soak items such as combs and brushes that may have come into contact with lice. You can use very hot water or alcohol to complete this process. You should soak these items for at least one hour. You may even consider throwing these items away and purchasing new items.
- Do a thorough cleaning of your entire household and vehicle. This cleaning should include sanitizing and vacuuming. It is much better to use a vacuum cleaner which uses a bag. The bag is easier to dispose of and reduces the risk of spilling the lice back onto carpets and upholstery.
- Use preventative measures to reduce the risk of reinfestation. Examine anyone who has come into contact with lice infestation every 3 days. Don't share personal care items such as combs or brushes with others. Avoid direct contact with anyone who has lice.