Summer’s over. School is back in full swing. And that means plenty of homework for the kids, fall sports season, shorter days, longer nights, and a greater chance for students to catch head lice – talk about the ultimate homework problem!
Head lice affects roughly 9-10 million Americans annually. Some years have an infestation rate as low as 6 million, while 12 million is on the higher end. While the range of those affected varies greatly, the age group is fairly well-defined; most of the head lice cases in any given year occur most commonly in children in preschool and elementary school. Any child between 3 and 11 years old is particularly vulnerable.
In fact, many of you reading this blog can recall those school days when one of your classmates or friends came down with a case of head lice. And if it wasn’t a close associate, it was you! How to properly get rid of head lice isn’t properly understood all the time, mainly because most people aren’t aware of what head lice are and how they spread.
This Urgent Care Extra blog will examine how head lice develop, why younger children are more susceptible than other age groups and some of the best ways for treating lice.
First, let’s take a quick look at pediculus humanus capitis, more commonly known as the head louse.
What Is Head Lice – and How Does It Spread?
A head louse is a parasitic, wingless insect that feeds on human blood. Unlike fleas and ticks, lice spend their entire lifespan on human scalps. The unique body style of the head louse – short, stumpy legs, no wings, limited movement and no ability to jump – makes it the “Goldilocks” of parasites; everything has to be just right for the head louse to thrive and reproduce. Once lice falls off a human scalp, it will not live for more than a few days.
Female lice can lay up to 10 eggs per day. If lice are on a scalp that doesn’t receive regular washing, those 10 daily eggs can quickly cause a head lice infestation.
Young children in a close-contact environment are the “perfect storm” for head lice to spread from one host to another. Preschools, elementary schools and also youth sporting environments are three of the most common settings where head lice spread.
Another reason why children are the most common carriers of head lice deals with personal hygiene. Just one skipped bath, one missed shower or poor head-washing gives head lice enough of a non-sterile setting to start spreading.
Lice Treatment Tips
“How to get rid of head lice” is a popular question this time of year, right up there with “Where is my backpack?” and “What time does the bus come?”
Here are some of the best ways to treat lice:
- The Light & Comb Method
All you need is a bright light and a lice comb. Wet the infected person’s hair. With a light focused squarely on the scalp area, slowly comb the hair from the middle of the scalp out toward the end. Pay close attention for lice and nits (the small eggs commonly attached to the hair). Remember, the first step in treatment is a proper diagnosis and removal – and the best thing about this process is that is does both at once!
- The Home-Wrecking Method
Lice require certain conditions to spread. Shampoo, hot water, soap and vacuums are the worst enemies of head lice. Thus, you should wash all bedding, pillows, blankets and clothes (basically, any item that was in contact with infected scalps) thoroughly after removing head lice. Plus, vacuum the affected area. A carpet shampoo wouldn’t hurt, either.
- Prescription Medications
Thankfully, there’s an abundant array of proven head lice medicines to choose from. There are a few nasty side effects to be aware of (see below), but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a few FDA-approved medications, including Sklice and benzyl alcohol lotion. As a general rule of thumb, just one or two applications are recommended; repeated applications can cause adverse reactions to the strong medication.
OTC Head Lice Treatment
There are a few OTC head lice treatments available. Two of the most popular brands available, Rid and Nix, offer diminishing return on investment; the head louse has started to adapt to these popular treatments, and as a result, they’re not as effective as in years past.
The aforementioned OTC head lice treatments are supplemented by different prescription medications, including Lindane (its harsh chemical content has resulted in it being banned in California), Ulesfia (a lotion that kills lice, but not their eggs), Malathion (includes many serious side effects) and Spinosad (of all OTC head lice treatments available, probably the most reliable and with the fewest side effects).
When it comes to OTC head lice medicines, lotions, shampoos and ointments, we recommend trying a lice comb and common-sense preventative measures (listed above) first.
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