Cause of little girl's itchy eyes will horrify moms everywhere

Sep 1, 2015 at 10:27 a.m. ET
Image: Laikwunfai/Getty Images

If you're a parent of a school aged child, you might be thinking that there are no two words more likely to send you into a panic than "super lice."

Sorry, but you're wrong. Ever heard of "eyelash lice?"

They're real. And yes, they're every bit as horrifying as the words imply.

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News that a 4-year-old girl in China's Fujian Province has brought the little critters into the spotlight this week. Her mom noticed she had red, itchy eyes and took her to the doctor, where an examination found a black, sticky substance around the lashes. That substance turned out to be lice and their discharge.

Nauseous yet?

The little girl's eyelashes had to be removed (ouch), and the area at the base of the eyelashes treated. The doctors' warning to her mom was apparently to make sure the girl showers regularly and to change her bedding more often.

Sounds simple. And yet, what's the deal with eyelash lice? Is this something moms should be worried about?

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Yes. And no.

Head lice, the critters moms are most familiar with, tend to stay on the head. In fact, the CDC notes that while they can migrate to the eyebrows or eyelashes, that's "uncommon." Typically lice on the eyelashes are actually pubic lice (you've probably heard them referred to as "crabs"), and they're rare in kids as they're typically spread via sexual contact. If they do appear, the CDC warns they may be a sign of sexual abuse, however they can also be spread via infected bedding or clothing. In other words, if a child is bed-sharing with an adult who has public lice, those little buggers can jump.

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As for treatment, you'll want to contact your doctor if eyelash lice seem to be a problem -- the main treatment is available only by prescription.

But hopefully things won't get that far.

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