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Now is the time to be alert to the potential for kids to get lice

October 21, 2018 GMT

It’s that time of year when we pull out our coats, hats, and gloves; the air is crisp and nips at our cheeks. While the weather change is usually welcome, it also causes an increased fear in every mother’s heart, that fear goes by the name of lice.

Yes, it is that time of year when our children hang up their coats and hats at school next to other coats and bring home a gift that has a tendency to keep giving.

Lice (the singular form is louse) is a common condition that typically involves infestation of the hair and scalp. Lice occurs worldwide, in individuals of all socioeconomic backgrounds. It occurs more often in children and girls more than boys. So if your child brings home the gift of lice, let the guilt go. It’s common.

Here is what you need to know about lice. The female louse life span is one month. During that time, she can lay up to 10 eggs a day. These eggs are often referred to as nits. They show up as small, white, somewhat teardrop-shaped, entities usually clinging to the hair shafts next to the scalp. The nits hatch in 8 days, releasing nymphs that require another 8 days to mature. Adults feed on blood that they find in the scalp and adjacent areas of the face and neck.

Let’s talk transmission. The good news is that lice do not jump or fly. They are transmitted via direct contact. Common symptoms include itching. Scratch marks may be seen on the scalp, neck and behind the ears. Diagnosis is made by evaluation. Treatment includes topical pediculicides. These are available over the counter (Nix®, Rid®, etc.).

Manual removal of the lice with wet combing can sometimes be used as an alternative. Because of the unique life cycle of the louse, consistent wet combing is necessary. Wet combing is repeated until no lice are found. (This typically means repeated combings every 3 to 4 days for several weeks.) Wet combing is performed with a fine-toothed comb, and, as you might expect, the hair should be wet.

Children under the age of 6 months should only be treated with wet combing. It is recommended that all household members be examined and treated if infested with lice or nits.

Lice survival is limited, they cannot live off the scalp more than 48 hours. In addition to treatment, the recommendation is to wash all clothing and linen used by the infested person in hot water (temperatures should reach at least 103 degrees Fahrenheit) and dry them on high heat.

For items that cannot be washed, they can either be taken to the dry cleaner (make sure you tell your dry cleaner you suspect lice) or sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks. It is also recommended to vacuum furniture and carpet where the infested person may have sat or reclined.

If your attempts at over-the-counter medications doesn’t seem to be working, contact your healthcare provider, particularly before doing multiple treatments. Studies suggest that there can be resistance to treatment, so you may need a prescription instead.

Sorry if reading this article made your head itch. Mine did as I was writing it. The take-home message is that lice happens. It does not mean that you’re dirty. And now you know how to take care of it.

Amy Pabawena is an ISU graduate and a Nurse Practitioner for Health West. She practices in the Lava Hot Springs, Downey and Preston locations.