Head lice is a very common problem. As many as 12 million people get head lice each year.
Anyone can catch head lice, but preschool and grade school children (ages 3 to 10) and their families are most often infected.
Some facts about head lice:
* Head lice are not a reason for panic or extreme measures.
* Head lice are not a sign of poor hygiene or uncleanliness.
* Head lice do not favor any particular socio-economic class.
* Head lice do not carry serious diseases.
* Head lice cannot jump or fly.
* Head lice cannot live on pets.
Adult lice are tiny, wingless insects about the size of a sesame seed. They are tan to grayish white. Lice appear much like flakes of dandruff, but are tightly stuck to the hair shaft. Female lice lay eggs on hair shafts close to the skin. Tiny lice eggs (called nits) look like white grains of sand that are firmly attached to the base of the hair shaft.
Symptoms of head lice include an itchy scalp, feeling that something is moving in the hair, and sores on the head caused by scratching.
The easiest way to find head lice is to part the hair completely down the scalp in small sections, looking for moving lice and nits. The nape of the neck and ears are the most common locations for nits.
Adult lice are difficult to find as they move quickly. Using a bright light and magnifying glass will help. Your doctor, a school nurse, or public health nurse can help you determine if lice are present. Treatment is recommended even if only one nit is found.
Over-the-counter and prescription lotions and shampoos are available to treat head lice. To effectively treat lice, use a shampoo that contains permethrine and comb the hair with a fine-tooth comb. Treatment may need to be repeated in 7 to 10 days. These medications are basically insecticides and should be used exactly as directed. You should never use a hairdryer after scalp treatments because many of the treatments are flammable.
Washing clothing and bed linens is usually not necessary. Combs, brushes, and other hair care items can be disinfected by soaking them in hot soapy water or medicated shampoo. Disinfect these items at the same time the affected person is treated. Lice are very contagious and can spread easily, so be sure to check other members of the household for signs of lice infestation.
If symptoms persist, or irritation develops after treatment, see your doctor.