According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated six to 12 million lice infestations occur each year in the U.S. among children three to 11 years of age. Head lice, or Pediculus humanus capitis, is a parasitic insect that is spread by close person-to-person contact.
Head lice are transmitted through lice attaching their eggs to the base of the hair shaft and then moving through the head and neck. Lice cannot jump or fly to another person’s head; rather, they move by crawling and can attach themselves via infested clothing, bedding and objects. Lice infestations can sometimes take up to several weeks before any itching occurs.
There are several ways parents and caregivers can help prevent children from getting head lice:
1. Don’t share items that come in contact with the head or scalp such as hairbrushes, combs, towels, hats, helmets, hair ties and accessories, scarves, headphones and earbuds.
2. Keep clothing that may have come in contact with the head separate from other areas including closets and lockers.
3. Avoid head-to-head contact with other children and tie back long hair in a ponytail or braid.
4. Practice safe sleepovers by not placing children’s pillows next to each other but have their feet positioned in the center of the floor.
5. Use lice preventative shampoo and conditioner such as products that contain menthol, lavender oil, citronella and tea tree, as lice repel certain scents.
Be sure to examine your child’s head routinely as lice are often found along the hairline and behind the ears.
If your child is diagnosed with head lice, all household members and those within close contact should be examined for lice. There are treatment options for lice including over-the-counter and prescription medications. All clothes, bedding, towels and stuffed animals and toys that have come into contact with lice should be washed in warm or hot water, depending on the fabric, and thrown in the dryer for a minimum of 20 minutes to effectively prevent re-infestation.