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Published on April 22, 2014

Head Lice: Every Parent's Nightmare

April 22, 2014

Mom combing nits out of girls hairAn estimated six to 12 million cases of head lice infestation occur each year in the United States in children three to 11 years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Head lice are most common among preschool children attending child care, elementary school children, and household members of children who have lice.

Contrary to myth, head lice are not caused by poor hygiene. They are spread mainly by direct head-to-head contact with a person who already has head lice. You cannot get head lice from your pets; lice feed only on humans.

Lice don’t fly or jump; they move by crawling. But because children play so closely together and often in large groups, lice can easily travel from child to child, especially when they touch heads during playing or talking.

Heading Off Head Lice

  • Teach children to avoid head-to-head contact during play and other activities at home, school, and elsewhere (sports activities, playgrounds, slumber parties, and camps).

  • Teach children not to share clothing and supplies, such as hats, scarves, helmets, sports uniforms, towels, combs, brushes, bandanas, hair ties, and headphones.

  • Disinfest combs and brushes used by a person with head lice by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for five to ten minutes.

  • Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets, or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with a person with head lice.

  • Clean items that have been in contact with the head of a person with lice in the 48 hours before treatment. Machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens, and other items using hot water (130°F) and a high heat drying cycle. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag and stored for two weeks.

  • Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the person with lice sat or lay. Head lice survive less than one or two days if they fall off the scalp and cannot feed.

  • Do not use insecticide sprays or fogs; they are not necessary to control head lice and can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

  • After finishing treatment with lice medication, check everyone in your family for lice after one week. If live lice are found, contact your health care professional.

Source:  U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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