Parenting Guild

Head Lice

We sit in dread of that awful letter being sent home with our child from school. The work, the embarrassment, the whole thing is just one big hassle! The mention of the word is enough to make our heads start itching! What is it?..... Head Lice!


Head lice are transmitted through close personal contact with another individual who is infested, through sharing of hats, combs, coats or co-mingling of these items at the homes of friends or at school or other public areas. Once present in a home, school or institutional environment, head lice usually spread rapidly. Most people are under the impression that only people who are unclean become infested with head lice. This is NOT TRUE. They infest persons from all socioeconomic levels, without regard for age, race, sex or standards of personal hygiene. Animals are not a source of human lice.


The earliest and most common symptom of a head lice infestation is itching, particularly in the area behind the ears and at the nape of the neck. Itching is not limited to these areas by all means.


Head lice have an elongated shape about (--) long and are grayish white. They do not have wings and they do not fly but they do jump and their ability to move quickly makes them difficult to find. Nits (eggs) which are about this long (-) are teardrop shaped and vary in color from yellowish brown to white. Head lice attach the nit to hair shaft with a glue like substance which makes it impossible to just wash out. You will need to comb with fine tooth comb to remove them.


Both prescription and over-the-counter remedies are effective in treating head lice. It is important that pregnant women and infants be treated under the direction of a physician because of concerns about potentially adverse effects. Be careful not to use topical preparations more frequently and over longer periods of time than directed. Overuse of these preparations may cause dermatitis or result in absorption of potentially toxic quantities of the drug.

Since agents that kill lice may not kill nits completely even when used according to directions, the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that infested patients be treated twice. The interval between treatments should approximate the incubation period for nits (seven to 10 days) so the second application will kill any newly hatched parasites. Waiting longer than 10 days to apply a second treatment may allow some parasites to mature and lay more eggs.

All persons who have live in a household where head lice have been found should be treated.

TO TREAT AN INFESTED PERSON Special fine tooth combs (nit combs) are readily available and can be used to scrape nits and lice off the hair shaft. Combing out nits and lice after proper treatment is not necessary to eliminate infestation, but it may be used for cosmetic reasons or may be required by school "nit-free" policies or by health authorities. Parents and guardians should check treated children for lice and nits daily for two or three weeks after treatment.


Objects that are able to harbor head lice and serve as vehicles of transmission should be also treated appropriately.

Exposing lice and nits to temperatures above 125 degrees F for 10 minutes is lethal. Most personal articles of clothing and bedding can be disinfected by machine washing in hot water or machine drying for at least 20 minutes using the hot cycle. Be sure to allow time between loads for water to reheat to the disinfecting temperature. Strip all beds, washing all bedding in this manner. Iron conventional mattresses with a hot iron (DO NOT IRON WATER BED MATTRESSES). Be sure to iron any folds or crevices and especially around buttons and edge of the binding. Wash all dirty clothing.

Place non-washable personal articles of clothing or bedding in the dryer on high heat for at least 20 minutes, dry clean or seal non-washable fabrics in a plastic bag for a minimum of 10 days. Place combs and brushes in a pan of water and heat on a stove to about 150 degrees F for 10 minutes. If heating may damage combs or brushes, soak them for one hour in a phenol solution.

Fumigating rooms and using insecticide sprays on furniture and carpets are not recommended to kill head lice; thorough vacuuming of houses and rooms (all floors and rugs) inhabited by infested persons is sufficient. You may repeat ironing procedure on other furniture that won't be damaged by heat. Wash furniture covered with vinyl and similar materials with hot soapy water. Thoroughly vacuum or clean car seats, bus seats, and individual infant and car seats according to manufacturer's directions.

Put all pillows, chair seats, throw rugs, cushions, stuffed animals etc. in direct sun. Lice will not live long in the heat and light of the sun. These items could also be placed in a sealed plastic bag for 14 days. Hats, caps, scarves, hair bands, bows, clips, etc. may be hand washed in very hot water with detergent and ammonia added. Either hang in sunlight to dry or use dryer on very hot setting.


Very often parents find it "too embarrassing" to tell others that their child has head lice. In order to prevent re-infestation, it is imperative that parents of all children your child has contact with be informed that their children may have been exposed. This would include day care providers, schools, sports, scouting or other clubs, friends, neighbors, relatives; anywhere your child may have had close contact with others. Your child may have gotten lice from, or given lice to, someone at one of these places who may not yet be aware that they are infested. By not letting others know that your child has had head lice, you risk having your child re-infested by contact with this person.

PREVENTION METHODS *Some Information gathered from HEALTHBEAT - Illinois Department of Health. Used with permission.

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