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Back to School: Avoiding Head Lice




In 1997, lice outbreaks were reported in 80% of American elementary schools. They’re a persistent problem, yet parents can help prevent their children from becoming infected. Life Cycle. Head lice are wingless insects that feed on human blood. They are specific to humans where they live their entire life cycle. Without a human host, head lice cannot survive more than a day or two as they need both blood and warmth.

About Lice

They have short legs unsuited to jumping or walking on smooth surfaces. Large claws enable them to cling tightly to the hair of their host. Shared combs, clothing, beds, and hats can be a source of the infestation, but the most common route involves head-to-head contact. Head lice do not carry disease.

Scratching at their bites can produce infection, however. Head lice do not infest pets or other animals. Head lice attach their eggs, called nits, near the base of a hair shaft. The eggs are slightly less than 1 millimeter long and appear tan or brown until they hatch. Afterward, they’re white. Nymphs emerge from the eggs. After molting three times, the nymphs become adults capable of reproduction in as little as nine days. Adults live about four weeks, enabling a female to lay 50-150 eggs.

Head lice feed four or five times each day, preferring to bite the nape of the neck or behind the ears. Treatment. Chemical pesticides have varying effectiveness against head lice. Commercial products containing lindane or permethrin can be effective for as much as two weeks. Lindane is available by prescription while permethrin can be obtained from a pharmacy. Insecticides should be used only when live insects are detected. Nits are largely unaffected by insecticide treatment and must be mechanically removed. Most county health departments and school nurses can provide information on low-cost or no-cost treatments for area residents. Pyrethrins are natural insecticides that have been in use for over a century.

Avoiding Head Lice

They’re found in numerous products but have the disadvantage of breaking down very rapidly, making them effective for only a few days. In some cases, this is beneficial because it prevents the chemicals from building up. The second application of insecticide should be performed in two weeks to kill any newly hatched lice.

The follow-up application is essential to prevent re-infestation. Some head lice are becoming resistant to insecticides, but mechanical removal techniques are effective against all types. Removal is the preferred method over the use of insecticides unless live head lice are observed. The FDA has approved a hot air device that kills both adult head lice and their eggs through desiccation – rapidly drawing the water from them and causing death within minutes.

A hairdryer is not a substitute for this device as the heat needed can be damaging. Wet combing is an excellent method to remove both nits and adult lice. These fine-toothed combs are made of plastic or metal. Wet combing can be done in conjunction with an insecticide or a conditioner. Place the comb against the scalp and draw it along the full length of the hair. Remove any nits or lice with an old toothbrush and flush them down a drain. This process should be repeated every three to seven days. Electronic combs have teeth with alternating charges. When a nit or louse contacts both sides, it receives an electrical charge, killing it instantly.

Wash bedding in hot water and vacuum any furniture or car seats used by an infected individual. Treating these areas with insecticide is not necessary. Prevention. The small size and rapid movement of head lice make detecting live insects difficult. Examine the scalp at 2 cm intervals. Lice avoid bright lights and will move away quickly. Also, the number of insects may be no more than a dozen. A careful examination may take 5 minutes.

Discourage children from sharing combs, hats, and other clothing. Encourage daily combing and brushing because adult lice can be damaged, causing death within a short time. If an outbreak is reported, examine the entire family for adult head lice and nits. Early detection is key to preventing their spread to other family members.

Pest Control can be a tricky business. By taking the time to educate individuals on the various bugs can help individuals live a better lifestyle. This week’s head lice, stay tuned for some of the newest tips and tricks.