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Health > Kids > Head Lice

Head Lice

Head lice are tiny insects that live on the scalp. They lay eggs, called nits, which stick to hair very close to the scalp. Head lice do not spread disease. Having head lice does not mean you are not clean.

The most common symptom of children infected with head lice is itching, although some children do not complain if they have a light infestation.

How are head lice spread?

Head lice spread through direct contact among children or indirectly on items such as hats, combs, hairbrushes and head phones. They don’t fly or hop, but they can crawl very quickly.

Although head lice often make the scalp itchy, it is possible to have them without any symptoms.

Head lice can’t live on pets, such as cats or dogs.

Head lice can live up to 3 days off the scalp. Although the eggs can also survive for up to 3 days, they need a warm environment to develop. They are not likely to hatch at room temperature.

Treat the household

Lice can live for up to three days off of the human body, so it is important to follow these steps to prevent reinfestation:

Wash all bedding and recently worn clothing in hot water (>120º) and dry in a hot dryer.

Soak combs/brushes in hot water for 10 minutes.

Vacuum to remove all lice and hairs with attached nits from furniture, rugs, stuffed animals and car seats. Place items that can not be washed or vacuumed into plastic bags for three weeks.

Change your child's sheets and pillowcases every night for a week and wash in hot water.

How can head lice be prevented?

Educate parents and schools about head lice. All parents should know that outbreaks of head lice have nothing to do with a family's income, social status, or level of personal hygiene.

Avoid direct contact with a person who has lice, or with their clothing or personal belongings.

Watch for signs of lice, such as frequent head scratching. Nits do not cause symptoms, but they can be seen on the hair shaft; they are yellow-white and oval-shaped.

Teach children not to share combs, brushes, scarves, hair ribbons, helmets, headphones, hats, towels, bedding, clothing, or other personal items.

Examine household members and close contacts of a person with head lice, and treat if infested.

Make sure schools, camps, and child-care centers provide separate storage areas (cubbies or lockers) and widely spaced coat hooks for clothing and other personal articles. They should assign sleeping mats and bedding to only one child and store these separately. They should wash dress-up clothes and play costumes between use by different children. During an outbreak, costumes should not be used in the classroom.

Exclude children with head lice from school or day care according to the institution's policy.

Important Reminders

Be patient. This is a frustrating problem.

Check your children for lice regularly and teach them to not share combs, brushes or hats.

Avoid using lice sprays, pesticides, gasoline or other non-approved products on your child. These can be deadly.

Call your pediatrician if your child's lice infestation has not resolved in 1-2 weeks or if his scalp has a rash that is infected with pus or honey colored scabs.

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