Head Lice

Diane O'Hora, Director of Health Education, Broome County Health Department, once again reminds parents that the "back-to-school" time of year is the season when head lice are most commonly transmitted and to be on the lookout for these tiny pests.

Lice are tiny, brown and gray parasites that can cause itching and scratching, especially on areas of the body that are covered with hair, such as the scalp, neck and behind the ears. If your child's hair is involved, you might be able to see the tiny lice eggs (called "nits"), which look like white grains of sand attached to the hair shafts.

"Head lice don't fly or hop. It takes head-to-head contact to get them," Ms. Chytilo said. Lice bites may cause inflammation and itching and can become infected. "Lice live primarily on the scalp but temporarily, lice can be transferred on clothing, bed linens, combs, brushes and hats that come in contact with an infected person," said Ms. Chytilo.

Six to 12 million people are infested with lice each year. "Kids and teens are most prone to catching lice, because they are often in close physical contact with other infected children, and because they are likely to share such personal items such as combs, brushes and hats," she noted. You can help prevent lice by taking the following precautions:

  • Avoid contact with infested hair or objects harboring lice or their eggs.
  • Don't share combs, brushes, hats, scarves, towels and bedding.
  • Examine children's hair regularly. Examine and treat family members who have become infected.
  • Your school nurse will tell you when your child can return to school.

Daily inspections are the best way to prevent head lice infestation. Early detection and removal of head lice and their eggs will control the degree of infestation and make the process of ridding them quicker and easier. Shorter hairstyles also help in finding and removing lice and nits.

When faced with head lice, ask your school nurse or health care provider to recommend the best way to get rid of head lice and their eggs (nits). Chemical Head Lice products do not kill the lice eggs. Removing the eggs (nits) is the most important step in ridding your child of head lice. Use a fine toothcomb to remove the lice eggs. "Be persistent by checking your child's head for lice regularly and always removing all of the nits," said Ms. Chytilo. "Re-inspect your child's hair daily; if you are being successful you will see fewer nits everyday."

If children do get head lice, Ms. Chytilo says all clothing and bedding must be washed and dried on high heat to kill the lice and eggs. To break the life cycle of the lice, items that cannot be laundered and could possibly harbor lice (such as soft toys, stuffed animals), should be sealed in plastic bags for two weeks. Hair-care items, such as combs and brushes, can either be soaked in hot water or medical shampoo, or thrown away.

Checking your own child routinely after a letter is sent home from the school nurse, and periodically throughout the school year, is the best precaution against head lice infestation. For more information about head lice and how to treat it, contact your school nurse or the Broome County Health Department at 607.778.2851.

09/07/2003 - 1:26pm