~~February 20, 2014~~
Going through this process for almost a third time, I had to review and refresh my knowledge.
Here goes ….
The head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) is an obligate ectoparasite of humans. Head lice are wingless insects spending their entire life on the human scalp and feeding exclusively on human blood. Humans are the only known hosts of this specific parasite. Other species of lice infest most orders of mammals and all orders of birds.
Like all lice, head lice differ from other hematophagic ectoparasites such as the flea in that lice spend their entire life cycle on a host. Head lice cannot fly, and their short stumpy legs render them incapable of jumping, or even walking efficiently on flat surfaces.
The non-disease-carrying head louse differs from the related disease-carrying body louse (Pediculus humanus humanus) in preferring to attach eggs to scalp hair rather than to clothing.
Head lice (especially in children) have been, and still are, subject to various eradication campaigns. Except for rare secondary infections that result from scratching at bites, head lice are harmless, and they have been regarded by some as essentially a cosmetic rather than a medical problem.
The bane of many parents, the head louse is a tiny, wingless parasitic insect that lives among human hairs and feeds on extremely small amounts of blood drawn from the scalp. Although they may sound gross, lice (the plural of louse) are a very common problem, especially for kids ages 3 years to 12 years (girls more often than boys).
Lice aren’t dangerous and they don’t spread disease, but they are contagious and can just be downright annoying. Their bites may cause a child’s scalp to become itchy and inflamed, and persistent scratching may lead to skin irritation and even infection.
It’s wise to treat head lice quickly once the diagnosis is made because they can spread easily from person to person.
~~Signs of Head Lice~~
Though very small, lice can be seen by the naked eye. What you or your doctor might see by thoroughly examining your child’s head:
~~Lice eggs (called nits)~~
These look like tiny yellow, tan, or brown dots before they hatch. Lice lay nits on hair shafts close to the scalp, where the temperature is perfect for keeping warm until they hatch. Nits look sort of like dandruff, only they can’t be removed by brushing or shaking them off.
Unless the infestation is heavy, it’s more common to see nits in a child’s hair than it is to see live lice crawling on the scalp. Lice eggs hatch within 1 to 2 weeks after they’re laid. After hatching, the remaining shell looks white or clear and continues to be firmly attached to the hair shaft. This is the stage when it’s easiest to spot them, as the hair is growing longer and the egg shell is moving further away from the scalp.
~~Adult lice and nymphs (baby lice)~~
The adult louse is no bigger than a sesame seed and is grayish-white or tan. Nymphs are smaller and become adult lice about 1 to 2 weeks after they hatch. Most lice feed on blood several times a day, but they can survive up to 2 days off the scalp.
With lice bites come itching and scratching. This is actually due to a reaction to the saliva of lice. However, the itching may not always start right away — that depends on how sensitive your child’s skin is to the lice. It can sometimes take weeks for kids with lice to start scratching. They may complain, though, of things moving around on or tickling their heads.
~~Small, red bumps or sores from scratching~~
For some kids, the irritation is mild; for others, a more bothersome rash may develop. Excessive scratching can lead to a bacterial infection (the skin would become red and tender and may have crusting and oozing along with swollen lymph glands). If your doctor thinks this is the case, he or she may treat the infection with an oral antibiotic.
You may be able to see the lice or nits by parting your child’s hair into small sections and checking for lice and nits with a fine-tooth comb on the scalp, behind the ears, and around the nape of the neck (it’s rare for them to be found on eyelashes or eyebrows).
A magnifying glass and bright light may help. But it can be tough to find a nymph or adult louse — often, there aren’t many of them and they’re able to move fast.
Call your doctor if your child is constantly scratching his or her head or complains of an itchy scalp that won’t go away. The doctor should be able to tell you if your child is infested with lice and needs to be treated. Not all kids have the classic symptoms of head lice and may be totally symptom-free.
Also be sure to check with your child’s school nurse or childcare center director to see if other kids have recently been treated for lice. If you discover that your child does, indeed, have lice or nits, contact the staff at the school and childcare center to let them know.
Find out what their return policy is. Most usually allow kids to return after one topical treatment has been completed.
~~Are Lice Contagious?~~
Lice are highly contagious and can spread quickly from person to person, especially in group settings (schools, childcare centers, slumber parties, sports activities, and camps).
Though they can’t fly or jump, these tiny parasites have specially adapted claws that allow them to crawl and cling firmly to hair. They spread mainly through head-to-head contact, but sharing clothing, bed linens, combs, brushes, and hats can also help pass them along. Kids are most prone to catching lice because they tend to have close physical contact with each other and often share personal items.
And you may wonder if Fido or Fluffy may be catching the pests and passing them on to your family. But rest assured that pets can’t catch head lice and pass them on to people or the other way around.
Your doctor can recommend a medicated shampoo, cream rinse, or lotion to kill the lice. These may be over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications, depending on what treatments have already been tried. Medicated lice treatments usually kill the lice and nits, but it may take a few days for the itching to stop. For very resistant lice, an oral medication might be prescribed.
It’s important to follow the directions exactly because these products are insecticides. Applying too much medication — or using it too frequently — can increase the risk of causing harm. Follow the directions on the product label to ensure that the treatment works properly.
Treatment may be unsuccessful if the medication is not used correctly or if the lice are resistant to it. After treatment, your doctor may suggest combing out the nits with a fine-tooth comb and also may recommend repeating treatment in 7 to 10 days to kill any newly hatched nits.
Familiarize Yourself With the Enemy
Do Routine Head Checks
Advise Your Children to Not Share Hats
Keep Hairbrushes Separate
Practice Safer Sleepovers
Use Shampoo and Conditioner for Lice Prevention
Use Essential Oils to Deter Lice
Spritz Clothing with Lice Protection Spray
Put a Scarf Over Movie Theater or Airplane Seats
Keep Hair Tied Up
Use Your Clothes Dryer
Is It Head Lice?
Uploaded on Aug 21, 2009
Think someone in your family may have head lice?
Learn what head lice look like and how to find them.
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