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What are head lice?

Head lice are tiny insects that live in the hair on a person's head. They can also be found on eyebrows and eyelashes. Head lice feed on small amounts of blood that they draw from the scalp several times a day. Lice don't cause disease, but they can make the scalp very itchy.


Lice can live on a person's scalp for up to 30 days and their eggs can live on hair for more than 2 weeks. They don't jump or fly. The most common way to get head lice is by head-to-head contact with a person who already has head lice. Although not as common, head lice can be spread from person to person through contact with shared items such as clothing (especially hats), bed linens, combs, and brushes. Getting head lice doesn't have anything to do with the cleanliness of a person or his home.


Lice are most likely to spread to preschool and elementary school children and their families. This is because young children and their families are in close contact and may share personal items that carry lice. Dogs, cats, and other pets don't spread lice to humans.


How can I tell if my child has head lice?

Head lice are hard to see because they're so small, but your child may feel something moving in his hair and have an itchy scalp. He may have trouble sleeping because lice become active in the dark. You may see tiny white or yellow lice eggs (called nits) on hair shafts close to the scalp. If sores caused by scratching become infected, you may also see small red bumps on his scalp or neck that may become crusty and ooze.


If your child's healthcare provider tells you your child has head lice, it's a good idea to contact your child's school nurse or child-care provider, as well as the parents of your child's friends, to alert them that your child has head lice and to see if other children have been treated recently for head lice.


How do I treat my child's head lice?

As recommended by your child's healthcare provider, you can treat head lice with over-the-counter or prescription medicated lotions and shampoos that kill the lice and nits. Many of them shouldn't be used in small children, so follow the healthcare provider's advice and read the instructions on the label carefully. Make sure the lotion or shampoo doesn't get into your child's eyes. If it doesn't kill all of the lice and nits, tell your child's healthcare provider, who will probably prescribe another medicine. Never try to kill the lice using home remedies, especially gasoline, kerosene, paint thinner, or garden pesticides. These can be poisonous and extremely harmful to you and your child.


Medicines that kill lice shouldn't be used on children ages 2 and under, so you'll have to remove the lice and nits by hand. Use a fine-tooth comb or a special nit comb that you can buy at a drugstore on your child's wet hair every 3 to 4 days for 2 weeks.


How can I stop my child's head lice from coming back?

To keep head lice from coming back, wash all items worn or used by the child in the 2-day period just before treatment in very hot water (130[degrees] F or 54.4[degrees] C) and put them in the dryer for at least 20 minutes. If linens, clothes, or stuffed animals can't be washed, you can have them dry cleaned or seal them in a plastic bag for 2 weeks-lice don't live long away from humans. You can also vacuum carpets and fabric-covered furniture in your home and car. Soak any combs, brushes, and other hair care items that were used by the child in hot water (at least 130[degrees] F or 54.4[degrees] C for 5 to 10 minutes).


Your child may have to stay home until the infection is under control. Check with your child's school, preschool, or child-care center for their policies.


Can I prevent my child from getting head lice?

To help prevent the spread of head lice, teach your child to:


* avoid sharing hats, scarves, coats, towels or hair care items with other children


* avoid head-to-head contact at school (on the playground, in gym class, or during sports).