Attention Parents: What to do About Head Lice and Nits
August 26, 1999
SEATTLE, WA (SafetyAlerts) - With schools beginning to start classes
across the nation there is the increasing likelihood of children contracting head lice.
Head lice can be spread from child to child. Although head lice in not dangerous to
your children, they can be very irritating. Below is some information on head lice
and how to deal with them.
WHAT ARE HEAD LICE?
- Lice are tiny insects that live on and crawl
through the hair. They are gray, brown, or black and can be difficult to see.
- Lice need human blood to survive and will die
within 24 hours if they can not find a "meal".
- Lice lay eggs (nits) on the hair close to the
scalp. It takes about 6 days for the nits to hatch.
- Nits are easier to see than lice. Nits are oval
shaped and most often can been seen in the hair behind the ears or near the neck.
- Head lice themselves are not a health hazard or a
sign of uncleanliness, and are not responsible for the spread of any disease.
- Itching of the scalp is the most common symptom.
Scratching can lead to skin sores and skin infections.
HOW ARE HEAD LICE SPREAD?
- Most often head lice are spread by head-to-head
contact with another person who has lice.
- Lice can be spread by wearing another person's hat
or clothing, by using another person's comb, brush, or bedding, or by placing clothing
worn by someone who has lice in a shared clothing storage compartment, locker, or a cloak
- Pets do not carry human lice.
HOW CAN HEAD LICE OUTBREAKS BE PREVENTED?
- Check your children's hair weekly for lice or nits.
- Treat the hair right away if you find them.
- Do not share combs, brushes, towels, bedding, hats
- Provide separate storage areas for each person's
clothing and other personal articles. Put personal articles in individual bins or sacks.
- Avoid sharing clothing, costumes, and
headgear/helmets. Use disposable shower caps or inexpensive liners when headgear/helmets
must be worn by different children.
- Assign sleeping mats and bedding to only one person
and store these separately.
STEPS FOR ELIMINATING LICE AND NITS:
- Lice and nits are most effectively removed by using
a combination of combing and lice treatments. There are chemical-based and
chemical-free lice treatments available over the counter.
The most important step in successfully
treating lice is thorough, careful combing of the hair for lice and nits at least daily
for 21 days. It is important to use an effective lice comb for this step (see below).
HOW DO I COMB HAIR TO REMOVE LICE AND NITS?
- Allow yourself enough time to do a good job. It may
take as long as an hour if the hair is long and thick. Work in good light.
- Apply one of the lice treatments as described
- Be sure to use an effective, nit-removal comb such
as Licemeister® or LiceOut®.
- Place a towel between the hair and shoulders of the
person who has head lice.
- Part the hair into four sections and pin the hair
with clips to prepare it for combing.
- Starting with one section, select a small area of
the section that is about 1 inch square. Start at the scalp and pull the comb all the way
through to the end of the strands of hair.
- If nits remain attached to the hair shaft, comb
through the hair strands again.
- After each comb-through, dip the lice comb in hot
water and wipe it with a paper towel.
- Continue combing until all sections are done.
- Wash the towel and clothes the person wore during
the combing as described below.
- Wash the comb in extra-hot (128.3° F)
soapy water for at least 10 minutes.
- Wash hands completely when done.
- Chemical-free treatments can be used as often as
needed. They do not kill lice or nits. They slow down the lice and make it easier to comb
- These treatments include coating the hair with one
of the following:
- Water-based products such as LiceOut®; or
HairClean 1-2-3®. Follow instructions on the box.
- Oil-based treatments such as olive oil or full-fat
- Apply thickly to hair.
- Cover hair with disposable shower cap; leave in
place for at least 30 minutes.
- Follow instructions for lice and nit removal using
an effective lice comb. Do not use these treatments at the same time the chemical
treatment is used.
CHEMICAL TREATMENT: NIX®
- Although it is the most effective of the chemical
treatments, it will not kill lice that have become resistant. It can be purchased without
- Wash the hair with a mild shampoo that contains NO
CONDITIONER, such as baby shampoo.
- Following the instructions on the box, apply Nix®.
- Comb the hair with a clean lice comb to remove the
nits. Dry hair as usual.
- Repeat Nix® treatment in 7 days.
- REMEMBER: Since lice may be resistant to Nix® and
other pesticides, you must perform daily nit combing for 21 days after using these
products to assure complete removal of lice and nits.
- Do not use Nix® when open sores are present.
- Do not use Nix® on children who are less than 2
years of age.
- Pregnant/breastfeeding women should consult their
health care provider before using Nix®.
- Never mix Nix® with other lice treatments.
- DO NOT USE any other creme rinse, shampoo
containing creme rinse, hair spray, mousses, gels, mayonnaise, or vinegar on the hair for
at least 1 week AFTER using Nix®, because they may weaken the action of Nix®.
- Chlorine in pool water may also deactivate Nix®
leading to some treatment failures.
- Never use Nix® on eyebrows and eyelashes. Apply
petrolatum jelly for a few days and pluck off nits with fingers.
- Never use Nix® more often than recommended. It is
an insecticide and can be poisonous if used improperly.
WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO DO?
Check other household members for lice. Treat other
family members who have lice. Do not treat someone if you do not see lice or nits in their
Notify your child's school and child care program
if your child has lice.
Wash all combs or brushes used by the person in
extra-hot (128.3 F) soapy water for at least 10 minutes.
Wash all clothing (including coats, hats, scarves)
and bedding used by the infested person in the last 2 days prior to the treatment.
To wash these items, do ONE of the
- Wash in extra-hot or heat dry the item at
temperatures more than 128.3° F for at least 5 minutes.
- Dry clean the item.
- Pack non-washable items in a sealed plastic bag for
21 days to eliminate the risk from dormant nits.
- You may vacuum upholstered furniture, carpets,
bicycle helmets, sports helmets, and upholstered car seats. Change the vacuum cleaner bag
after use and place it in a sealed plastic bag and put the bag in the outside garbage.
- Do not use lice sprays! They may cause toxic
or allergic reactions.
WHAT IF THE LICE COME BACK OR THE TREATMENT
FAILS TO WORK?
- If lice come back, it is usually because nits or
newly hatched lice were not removed with the first treatments.
- Follow the combing instructions as described.
- You may use the chemical free treatments as often
- You may use Nix® again after 7 days have passed
since the last application of Nix®.
- No matter which treatment you use, the most
important thing is to comb out the lice and nits completely.
- Please consult your school or child care program if
you have questions about their head lice prevention and control policy.
- National Pediculosis Association: http:/www.headlice.org
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