Lice are parasitic wingless 6 legged insects which feed on human blood. They live on human head hair and although they don’t spread disease, they are contagious. Head Lice is a very common problem especially for school age kids and girls more often than boys.
Head lice are unpleasant and many people suffer an infestation at some point in their life. It is a very common and frustrating problem, however, it is important to understand that lice won’t hurt you and the condition is treatable.
Head lice are the most common form of lice infestation. The head louse is gray white in color and is about the size of a sesame seed. They use their claws to cling to the hair shaft and can crawl through the hair, but cannot jump or fly. They can be found on dirty or clean hair and long or short hair. They do not live on pets. Head louse produce eggs called nits that attach firmly to the hair shaft region close to the scalp or body.
Head lice are most commonly located on the scalp behind the ears and at the back of the neck. Infestation with head lice is called pediculosis. The signs and symptoms of head lice infestation may include:
A tickling feeling of something moving in the hair
Itching and scratching
Small red bumps or sores from scratching
Head lice are caused by close contact, especially head to head contact, with someone who has an infestation. Contact with clothing such as hats and coats, or sharing personal items such as combs, hair brushes and towels of an infested person can also spread the condition.
Getting rid of head lice requires treating the individual and the family. Treatment involves two steps:
The first step in treatment is the use of medicines. Your doctor may prescribe a medicated shampoo, cream rinse or lotion to kill the lice. These treatments usually kill the lice and nits but it may take a few days for the itching to stop. Two products lindane (Kwell®) and permithrin (Nix®) are used. Pyrethrin/piperonyl butoxide formulations are also effective. Both have very good safety records and there is no evidence that multiple treatments are harmful.
Lindane when used as directed is considered safe. Overuse can be toxic to the brain and nervous system and therefore recommended for single application only. Lindane kills lice but does not kill nits.
Permithrin is a cream rinse used to treat head lice and their eggs. Permithrin 1% is available over the counter and permithrin 5% is available by prescription. The effect can last for up to 14 days, but a second treatment at 7 days is advisable.
Benzyl alcohol lotion 5 % (Ulesfia™) kills lice by suffocating them. It is safe and effective in children. Apply Ulesfia to scalp and scalp hair, leave on for 10 minutes and then thoroughly wash with water. Repeat the application of Ulesfia a week after the first treatment. It is not recommended for use in children younger than 6 months. Because some products have significant toxicities, it is important to follow application directions carefully.
The second step in treatment is removing nits. If nits are left in place they may survive and mature to become young lice. Nits within the scalp should be physically removed by a fine–tooth comb on wet hair. Wash all clothing and bedding in hot soapy water. Objects like combs and brushes, hair bands and clips should be soaked in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo.
Because lice are easily passed from person to person, family members will also need treatment to prevent the lice from coming back.
Having head lice is not a sign of poor hygiene, but may be a problem for kids of all ages no matter how often they clean their hair. You can help to prevent kids from getting lice by taking the following precautions:
Tell kids to try to avoid head to head contact with other children.
Teach children not to share combs, brushes, hats, towels or other personal things.
Check your children regularly for nits and lice.