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So, you got the head lice memo: What now?

Sherri Kuhn writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With a son just starting college and...

How to deal with an infestation of head lice

It may quite possibly be the most dreaded memo from your child’s teacher — someone in his class has head lice. After you get over the ick factor, it’s time to take action.

What can you do to check your child and prevent head lice from invading your home — and your head?

If you have never faced an infestation of head lice, consider yourself lucky. The little buggars are much more common than you would think, and chances are you will have to deal with them at some point in your mothering career.

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What are head lice?

Pediculosis capitis are tiny parasites that infect the scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes. They lay tiny eggs called nits that resemble flakes of dandruff and can live on the scalp for up to two weeks. Once they hatch, the lice feed on blood from your scalp. Head lice cause no permanent damage and do not carry diseases, but they are difficult to fight. They spread easily through direct physical contact with someone who is carrying them. Sharing pillows, hair ties, combs and brushes, hats and helmets should be discouraged.

Contrary to widespread belief, head lice infestation has nothing to do with personal hygiene. They are quite common — especially among preschoolers — and can easily spread through a family or classroom. Head lice cannot fly or jump from person to person as many believe.

Symptoms

By the time you see the memo, your child may already be infected. Itching of the scalp can be a sign, but the only way to know for certain is to check his scalp. Adult lice and their nits are very small and difficult to detect, so a thorough check with a fine-toothed comb is necessary.

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What am I looking for?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a fact sheet on their website that includes pictures and detailed descriptions of lice and their eggs. According to the CDC, a fully developed adult louse is the size of a sesame seed, has six legs and is tan to grayish-white in color. Nits are extremely tiny, may appear yellow or whitish in color and can be difficult to detect. Lice can live up to 30 days on a scalp, but will die in a day or two if they fall off.

Got lice? What to do now

Head lice needs to be treated — the sooner, the better. You need to treat your child, check for other family members who may need treatment and treat household items to prevent re-infestation.

  • Your child: Treating a child with an active infestation requires using an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication. Remove any clothing that may become wet or stained during treatment and apply lice medicine according to instructions. If your child has hair longer than shoulder length it may be necessary to use a second bottle of medicine. It is important not to leave the medication on any longer than the directions indicate. If there are no dead lice after eight to 12 hours of treatment, the medication may not be working and you should contact your healthcare provider.
  • Other family members: Anyone who shares close quarters with the infested child should be closely checked for nits or adult lice. If an active infestation is detected, they should also be treated.
  • Household items: According to the CDC, since head lice require a human host to survive they won’t last long once they have fallen off. Machine wash and dry clothing and bedding in hot water, vacuum carpeted areas and soak combs and brushes in hot water for five to 10 minutes. Items that cannot be laundered can be sealed in plastic bags for two weeks to ensure that no nits or lice survive.

Two things to try

There are a multitude of hair care products, special combs and lice removal systems on the market. We found two to try if you find yourself battling lice.

There’s an app for that

Who knew there would be an app to help in your war on head lice? Facts of Lice is a free iPhone application created by Fairy Tales Hair Care, a company that sells all-natural lice prevention products for children. Parents can opt for push notifications to alert them to lice outbreaks in their zip code. There are tabs for outbreaks, prevention, removal of lice and nits and news about lice.

Be natural

Licenders is an all-natural line of lice removal products that contain no pesticides or harmful chemicals. Licenders offers the Lice Prevention Pack, which includes shampoo, comb, bed bug spray, household cleaner, repellant, mousse and natural oil. They even offer house calls and screening offices in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Don’t panic over a lice infestation. A bit of patience and diligence can rid you of those little bugs in no time.

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