FAMILY HEALTH: Head Lice

MYTHS & REALITIES - TREATMENT & PREVENTION
by Lorel Kane

          "Your child has head lice."  Those are words parents don't ever want to hear, but according to Dr. Barry Zietz, a pediatrician with Texas Children's Pediatric Associates (TCPA) – West Houston, lice will infest one in four children.  These tiny, parasitic insects live on human heads and feed on the blood of the scalp. 

         Contrary to some beliefs, lice are not the result of poor hygiene. While a diagnosis of head lice may be a horrible thought, it's not a sign of being dirty or sick.  "It just happens to people," Dr. Zietz says,  "Don't look down on people who have lice.  Once you have it, treat it correctly and you should be fine."

  

HOW DO LICE SPREAD?

         Lice don't jump or fly from head to head.  They can't be spread by pets, but they do spread easily when kids are together in close proximity.  They mostly spread through contact with inanimate objects, like shared hats, combs, brushes, and headphones.  They can even spread from shared clothing or bedding.

        Lice tend to spread more during the school year when children are in enclosed spaces, but just because it's summer, lice don't take a vacation.  Summer play groups, camps, or summer school classes can be a source of head lice.

         So, how do you know if your child has lice?

 

WHAT SYMPTOMS SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR?

       Symptoms may include intense itching of the scalp or tiny red bumps on the scalp, neck, or shoulders.  Dr. Zietz says the reason the head itches is because the lice bit it to get blood for nourishment and their saliva causes the itchiness, just like a mosquito bite.

         To know for certain, though, Dr. Zietz says you just have to look.  Seeing the lice themselves may be difficult because they are so small.  What's easier to spot are lice eggs, called nits, which are small and white and adhere to the hair shaft near the scalp.

 

HOW DO YOU GET RID OF LICE?

         If your child does have lice, should you rush him or her to the doctor?  Dr. Zietz says that's not necessary, in fact he seldom has children come to his office with head lice, since over the counter products work well to eliminate the problem.

         The two most common products are called Rid and Nix.  Dr. Zietz says they work well  -- if you follow the instructions.  "Many people think they have treatment failure because they're not following the directions correctly," Dr. Zietz said.

        Dr. Zietz says the day after children are treated they can go back to camp, school, or the playground.  Just to make sure you get any nits or lice left behind he suggests giving them a second treatment seven to ten days later.  But when they do return to their friends, remind them to take care not to share anything that touches their heads.

          Some people attempt natural remedies, like olive oil or butter or mayonnaise or Vaseline in hopes of suffocating the lice.  Many parents say they've succesfully gotten rid of lice using olive oil.  But Dr. Zietz says these approaches are not recommended because they're not very effective.

         You may also want to ask your doctor for a prescription treatment.  The most common is malathion, sold under the name Ovide Lotion.  Malathion is the same insecticide used in gardens.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say Ovide Lotion "is safe and effective when used as directed."  But it may cause stinging, especially if the scalp has open sores from scratching.

 


CAN YOU PREVENT GETTING LICE?

         The only real way to prevent head lice is to avoid head to head contact with others, either directly or through inanimate objects.

         If your child does get infested, you can take steps to prevent them from spreading the lice to others at home, camp or school.

Don't share hats, scarves, hairbands, barrettes, combs, brushes, or headphones.

Throw all of your child's clothing and bedding into the wash. 

Soak combs and brushes in very hot water for five to ten minutes.

Vacuum the floor and furniture where the infested child sat or lay.

If your child sleeps with stuffed toys that can't be washed, just put the stuffed toys in a plastic bag for two weeks.  Without any human blood to nourish them lice can't survive more than 48 hours.





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