What is head lice?
Head lice are tiny, gray bugs. They are 2 to 3 millimeters long. They move fast and are difficult to see. Head lice live in the hair and bite the scalp to suck blood.
They attach their white eggs, called nits, to the hair. Unlike dandruff, nits can't be shaken off. The nits are easier to see than the lice because they are white and very numerous.
The back of the neck is the favorite area for lice and nits. Lice and nits cause your child's scalp to itch and have a rash.
What is the cause?
Head lice live only on human beings. They can be spread quickly by using the hat, comb, or brush of an infected person, or simply by close contact. Anyone can get lice despite good health habits and frequent hairwashing. The nits (eggs) normally hatch into lice in about 1 week.
Lice that live in the pubic area ("crabs") are slightly different but are treated the same way as head lice. They can be transmitted from bedding or clothing and do not signify sexual contact.
How long does it last?
After you use anti-lice shampoo all lice and nits will be killed. If the lice come back, it usually means your child has had contact with another infected person or the shampoo wasn't left on for 10 minutes. There are no lasting problems from having lice and they do not carry other diseases.
How can I take care of my child?
- Anti-lice shampoo or rinse - Common anti-lice shampoos/rinse include are NIX or RID. Follow the directions. Most products must be used on dry hair. Pour about 2 ounces of the anti-lice shampoo into the dry hair. Add a little warm water to work up a lather. Scrub the hair and scalp for 10 minutes, by the clock. Rinse the hair thoroughly and dry it with a towel. The shampoo kills both the lice and the nits. Repeat the anti-lice shampoo once after 7 days to prevent reinfection.
- Removing nits - To make sure the nits are dead, wait at least 8 hours after using the shampoo before removing them. Remove the nits by backcombing with a fine-tooth comb or pulling them out individually. The nits can be loosened using a mixture of half vinegar and half water. Apply the mixture to the hair and keep your child's hair under a towel wrap for 30 minutes. Even though the nits are dead, most schools will not allow children to return if nits are present. The head does not need to be shaved to cure lice.
- Lice in the eyelashes - If you see any lice or nits in the eyelashes, put plain petroleum jelly on the eyelashes twice a day for 8 days. The lice won't survive.
- Cleaning the house - Head lice can't live for more than 24 hours off the human body. Your child's room should be vacuumed. Combs and brushes should be soaked for 1 hour in a solution made from the anti-lice shampoo. Wash your child's sheets, blankets, and pillowcases in hot water. Items that can't be washed (hats or coats) can be sealed in plastic bags for 2 weeks (the longest that nits can survive). Anti-lice sprays or fumigation of the house is unnecessary.
- Contagiousness - Check the head of everyone else living in your home. If lice or nits are seen, or they start to get an itchy scalp rash, they should be treated with anti-lice shampoo. Bedmates of children with lice should also be treated. If in doubt, have the person checked. Your child can return to school after the first treatment with the shampoo. Remind your child not to share combs and hats.
When should I call my child's health care provider?
Call during office hours if:
- The rash and itching are not gone 1 week after treatment.
- The sores start to spread or look infected.
- The lice and nits return.
- You have other questions or concerns.