According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention: “The head louse, smaller than a sesame seed, is a parasitic insect that lives close to the scalp and feeds on human blood. Each year, an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur in the United States among children 3 to 11 years old.”
More than 72 percent of the reported cases of head lice occur in children 12 and younger.
Schools and preschools offer ideal breeding grounds for spreading the pesky lice. Perhaps that’s why September has been declared Head Lice Prevention Month.
Do Lice Have to Do With Personal Hygiene?
Lice do not respect social or economic status and their presence does not indicate a lack of proper hygiene. They are mainly acquired through direct head-to-head contact with an infected host. They are more of a nuisance than a serious health threat, but most parents detest the idea of lice crawling through their child’s hair and depositing their eggs.
Several recent studies have found some lice which appear to be resistant to the agents in the shampoos we use to get rid of them. But, there are no statistics which tell us how widespread this resistance might be. In fact, we often find that ‘failed’ treatments can be attributed to incorrectly following usage directions and even misdiagnosing the problem in the first place.
Facts About Head Lice in Children
First, if you child has head lice, learn the facts about lice. There are a number of misconceptions about head lice and treatment.
Fiction: Nits in the hair mean a person has lice.
Fact: Fewer than one in five children with nits go on to get lice infections. It takes 7-10 days for a nit to hatch and another 7-10 days for a female to mature and begin laying her own eggs. The life span of head lice is about 30 days.
Fiction: Treat all family members if even one has head lice.
Fact: Treatment should only begin when adult lice are found and limited to individuals with adult lice. There are no proven benefits to “preventive treatments.”
Fiction: If your child has head lice, you have to sanitize your entire house.
Fact: Wash bed linens and towels in hot water and dry on a high-heat cycle to kill any lice that may be on them. Vacuuming is usually the best approach to removing lice and/or fallen hairs with attached nits from carpeting, upholstery and even stuffed animals. There are also sprays that can be used on furniture , and other household items. Typically, lice cannot survive more than 24 hours off a human host.
Fiction: Lice spread easily through pillows, hats and even chairs and car upholstery.
Fact: Lice are crawling insects and cannot fly, hop or jump. Lice on hats and furniture are usually sick, dead, elderly or just cast-off lice skins. It typically requires relatively prolonged head-to-head contact for lice to spread from child to child.
Fiction: Lice like long hair
Fact: Short hair makes it easier for lice to move around. It’s totally unnecessary to cut a lice-infected child’s hair or even to put it into a ponytail. In children under 5 and over age 10, Girls are more likely to get head lice than boys. This is due to their closer contact during play (in girl children) rather than the fact that girls have longer hair. An infestation in a child with long hair does not mean that he or she must have a haircut, but they may need more shampoo to thoroughly treat all the hair.
How to Get Lice Out of a Child’s Hair
The important thing to remember is get those lice OUT of your children’s scalp! There are several over-the-counter pesticide-based shampoos which, along with combing out the nits, kills the lice, usually in one or two applications. One recommendation to use versus reliance on over the counter pesticides that may needlessly risks children’s health is daily combing and the manual removal of lice.
Another product on the market this year combining several essential spice oils is Scalp-Clenz. Applied on the head for five minutes it is a non-toxic solution to remedying head lice. It is available in health food stores. It’s also important to sterilize combs, brushes and hair accessories. Advise children not to share these items with friends. Vacuuming the home and car is advisable; be sure to throw away the bag immediately.