I've always been expected to write an article on head lice when school starts since they're always a problem at that time of the year. However, I purposely had not planned to do so this year. I don't think my imagination is any more active than anyone else's, but I've always felt like something was crawling on my head while I wrote those articles.
Imagine my surprise to learn I really needed to provide that article this year. And if you've been listening to the news lately, you know why. There are now "super lice." While these new lice don't look different, don't have flying monogrammed capes and can't jump over or see through large buildings, they do create additional problems for some school children and their parents.
These new super lice create even bigger problems than their relatives because they are drug-resistant and no longer respond to common anti-lice medications, making them much more difficult to treat.
While super lice are a real concern and you need to be aware of them, the chances of your child bringing home regular lice is much more probable. CDC estimates that 6-12 million kids, ages 3 to 11, get head lice each year.
Lice are parasitic insects that can be found on people's heads and bodies, including the pubic area. The three types of lice that live on humans are:
• Pediculus humanus capitis (head louse)
• Pediculus humanus corporis (body louse, clothes louse)
• Pthirus pubis ("crab" or pubic louse)
Pediculus humanus capitis (head lice) are six-legged, wingless parasites that are about the size of a sesame seed. The legs are equipped with claws they use to clasp hair. They are unable to hop, jump or fly and can only move from place to place by crawling. Head lice can live for approximately 30 days on a host and one female adult louse may lay up to 100 nits (eggs). Removed from their hosts, lice will starve and die. The NPA suggests that, in most cases, a head louse will not survive for more than 24 hours off of its host.
The nits (eggs) are small yellowish-white, oval-shaped eggs that are glued to the side of a hair shaft at an angle. Once laid, nits take 7-10 days to hatch, and another 7-10 days for the female to mature and begin laying her own eggs.
Head lice are spread by head-to-head contact with an infested person or by sharing personal items such as hats, scarves, brushes or combs.
Signs and symptoms of lice include:
• Tickling sensation of something moving in the hair
• Difficulty sleeping (head lice are more active in the dark)
• Sores on the back of the head because of scratching
The best way to find head lice is to carefully inspect the scalp. It's often hard to find the active adult lice. Instead, look for the nits by inspecting the scalp and hair close to the scalp.
While these new "super lice" appear to have successfully developed resistance to medications typically used for their eradication, doctors are still recommending traditional treatments because not all lice are resistant to them. There are, however, several promising products awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration that are supposed to be effective against the "super" version.
If your doctor orders a prescribed medicine or you choose to purchase an over-the-counter treatment, read and follow the directions carefully and use with caution. Remember, all lice-killing products are pesticides. If the product fails, do not switch to other over-the-counter treatments or use prescription products as a last resort. The repeated use of these products can potentially be very harmful.
The procedure must be followed by the diligent removal of all the nits. This is accomplished by carefully combing the hair with a fine-toothed comb. Section off the hair and meticulously comb each area, starting at the hair roots and eliminating every nit. Although time consuming, this is a very necessary component to any lice treatment regimen because if you don't remove them all, the lice will come back.
Once the lice treatment regimen has started, it's time to start up the washing machine and pull the vacuum cleaner out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing all items — such as bedding and clothing - that have come in contact with an infested person. Do not use fumigant sprays; they can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
Prevent head lice infestation:
1. Caution your kids to avoid head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact during play and other activities at home, school and elsewhere (sports activities, playground, slumber parties, camp). Lice are spread most commonly by direct head-to-head contact and much less frequently by sharing clothing or belongings onto which lice or nits may have crawled or fallen.
2. Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons or barrettes.
3. Do not share combs, brushes or towels.
4. Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, rugs, carpets or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with an infested person.
5. Don't share combs, brushes or hats.