OKLAHOMA – The National Pediculosis Association recognizes September as Head Lice Prevention Month. As children continue to settle into the classroom, GlobalHealth, an Oklahoma-based health maintenance organization, is offering tips to treat and prevent the itchy parasites.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 6 to 12 million head lice infestations occur each year among American children between the ages of 3 and 11. Common areas where groups of children gather, such as classrooms or daycare centers, often play host to spreading the bug.
“Contrary to popular belief, head lice do not jump or fly, pets cannot transmit the disease and personal hygiene does not play a role in whether or not a person becomes infested,” said Dr. Don Wilber, physician with GlobalHealth. “The two most important steps to treat lice are to use an over-the-counter pediculicide to kill the lice, followed by manually removing the lice and eggs.”
Head lice survive by feeding off human blood and can be found in the hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. Lice are extremely contagious and are spread by close person-to-person contact, either directly or indirectly. Direct contact with an infested person or contact with an infested person’s belongings such as coats, hats, pillows and brushes can spread lice.
Symptoms include a tickling feeling in the hair, frequent itching and sores on the scalp from scratching. Lice are easiest to detect at the neckline and behind the ears. There are three forms of lice: nits (eggs), nymphs and adults. An adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed and can survive on a human for up to 30 days, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. They usually cannot survive off the host for more than 24 hours.
GlobalHealth recommends the following tips for treating and preventing head lice:
• Consult your pharmacist or physician. If the person infested is pregnant, nursing, has allergies, asthma, epilepsy, other pre-existing medical conditions, or has lice or nits in the eyebrows or eyelashes, ask your pharmacist or physician about the appropriate treatment. Never use a pesticide on or near the eyes.
• Treat with pediculicides medicine. Make sure the medicine specifically contains chemicals that kill lice. Read all directions on pediculicides before using and be sure to pay close attention to how long the medicine should be left on the scalp. Avoid lice sprays; they are ineffective and unnecessary.
• Manually remove all lice and nits. Using a lice comb, fingernails or a pet flea comb, it’s important to do the manual removal in conjunction with medicines because no pediculicide is 100 percent effective. Treat all affected family members at the same time.
• Clean the home environment. Vacuum-
ing and washing materials are the best practices for preventing re-infestation. Sheets and recently worn clothing should be washed and dried in hot temperatures. Hang personal belongings so as not to come in contact with other people’s items.
• Do frequent head checks. Even without symptoms, frequent head checks are the best way to avoid transmission of head lice.