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Lice can be aggravating, but you can work your way through this nuisance. Here's How:

It’s the time of year when kids gather in school. They’re building friendships, sharing curiosity and… yep, sometimes swapping head lice. It can happen in any school with any kids. Personal hygiene and home or school cleanliness has nothing to do with head lice or their spread.

If you have children, you may already be familiar with head lice. Head lice infestations are common in pre-schools and elementary schools. They can spread around to everyone in a household, regardless of age.

 Getting Acquainted with… Head Lice

Head lice are small parasitic insects. They live on the scalp. They like the areas behind and around ears and near the neckline at the back of the head. Sometimes they can be in the eyelashes or eyebrows, but that’s uncommon.

Lice start as eggs, or nits, that are tiny. Nymphs hatch from eggs. Nymphs look like a small version of the adult. The adult louse (singular for lice) is about the size of a sesame seed. It has six legs and is tan to light gray.

Females are bigger than the males and can lay about six eggs every day. An adult louse can live up to 30 days on a person. They live only a couple of days when not on a person. Lice feed on human blood to live. 

How Do Head Lice Get Around?

These bugs cannot hop or fly. They typically crawl from person to person when head-to-head contact is made. It’s less common but they can also move from person to person when clothing, hats, scarves, combs, brushes, towels or plush toys are shared. 

What Are the Signs of Head Lice?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a person with head lice may notice:

  • A tickling feeling of something moving in the hair. That happens because there is something moving in the hair. (You’re right, that’s a little gross.) 

  • Itching. This can be caused by an allergic reaction to a louse bite.

  • Irritability and trouble sleeping. This can happen because head lice are most active in the dark. 

  • Sores on the head caused by scratching. The sores can become infected by bacteria found on the skin. (Saying “ewwwww” now would be totally understandable.)

OK, Let’s Bring Up Some Good News

The good news is: Head lice are not considered a medical or public health hazard by the CDC. And they are not known to spread disease. 

Dogs, cats and other pets do not seem to help spread head lice. That’s another reason to love your pet. 

For the most part, head lice are spread by simple contact between people. If you can avoid close contact, you can reduce the risk of spreading the little pests.

Cases of shared sports helmets spreading head lice are rare. The feet of head lice are adapted to hang onto hair, but they tend to fall off surfaces such as plastic, metal, polished synthetic leathers and such.

Prevent Re-infestations

Immediately after treatment, the person you’ve treated should put on clean clothing.

Gather items such as hats, scarves, pillowcases, bedding, clothing and towels used by people with lice. Gather things they used in the two days before treatment

Wash the items in water 130 degrees or warmer. The items should be in the water at least five minutes. Then dry on a hot air cycle. 

If an item can’t be laundered, it can be dry cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks. 

Soak combs and hairbrushes in water that’s at least 130 degrees for five to 10 minutes. 

Vacuum furniture and floors. This can pick up hairs that may have nits attached. 

There… that’s probably all you’d ever want to know about head lice. Oh, there’s one more thing.

Other Types of Lice

Along with head lice, there’s also:

  • Pubic lice. Also called crabs. They’re found in the pubic area, and sometimes on eyelashes, eyebrows, under arms and on chest hair. They’re rarely found on the scalp.

  • Body lice. They live and lay their eggs (nits) in clothing seams. They crawl to the body to feed. 

The Many Hidden Costs of Head Lice

Professional lice removal can be expensive, especially when multiple family members in the home are affected. However, procrastination in the form of attempting to rid yourself or your family of lice via home remedies is the single highest cost many families experience.

By the time families reach out to us, they have often already spent hundreds of dollars and have nothing to show for it.

There are many hidden costs to home lice treatment that many families simply don’t think about, and waiting too long to get professional lice treatment can mean spending more than double the typical cost of professional lice removal.

THE POTENTIAL COSTS OF HOME LICE TREATMENT

Dry Cleaning: $$

Lice co-pollinate up to 90% of the time in any given household; however, they are unable to live for more than 24 hours in the environment outside of a scalp. In other words, they cannot easily spread from the scalp to clothes, furniture, or other household accessories.

Not knowing this, we often see families rack up huge bills for dry cleaning in an attempt to eradicate what they thought was a house-wide infestation!

As we say, “don’t burn your house down” just because you find lice; simply doing the laundry with an all-natural detergent will do the trick.

Over-the-Counter or Home Treatments: $$

Put simply, these do not work!

New strains of “super lice” have built a resistance to traditional over-the-counter treatments. Applying Nix or any similar product to the scalp and hoping for the best is not going to solve the problem; in fact, it may make things worse by providing a short-lived, false sense of security that ultimately results in reoccurrence and the spreading of lice to others.

Nannies & Sitters: $$$

Want to know what is really great about head lice?

It always happens on a day when your schedule is completely free, with no obligations or responsibilities!

Ha!

Actually, head lice are one of the top three reasons kids miss school each year.

When receiving a call from school or daycare demanding to “pick up your child immediately,” many parents are caught completely off guard and wind up having to hire a nanny or babysitter to pick up and watch their child for the remainder of the day.

Even if lucky enough to find someone in the spur of the moment, costs accrue quickly. Hundreds of dollars, even! Couple that with failed home remedies and what was originally a one-day ordeal quickly turns into two, three or more.

Cha-ching!

Buying New Stuff: $$$

Upon discovering lice, you may have an urge to throw away every sheet, towel, and pillow throughout the household in an effort to eradicate lice. You are not alone! We have spoken with hundreds of families over the years who have thrown away perfectly good sheets, towels, pillows, rugs, and even furniture!

The best advice we can give is don’t panic! (And don’t throw away perfectly good household items.) Call Larger Than Lice and we can walk you through the process of getting rid of lice and nits without moving everything to the curbside bin.

Missed Work: $$$$

Can’t find a sitter? Family and friends not particularly thrilled about the prospect of looking over your lice-infested child while you head off to work?

Sounds like a missed day at the office!

Those of us with school-aged children know how hard it is to balance teacher planning days, holidays, sick days, and inconsistent school schedules with busy work schedules. It requires a lot of understanding by the boss and your fellow coworkers. For that reason, unplanned days off due to a lice outbreak can be especially stressful for working parents. Not to mention the lost pay or vacation days spent staying home.

The Good Thing About Lice

The school year is back in swing and that means many of you will be discovering the joys of lice. I know, I know. How can there be anything good about lice? Here is how I turned it into a good thing for me.

1) My own children had it so many times in kindergarten and grade one that I decided to join the Lice Committee at their school.  It was the first way I got involved in my kids school and I liked meeting the other ladies that volunteered and the sense of community it gave me with the other moms.

2) Unlike other parent volunteer jobs in the school, this one really let me get to visit with kids. And a lot of them!  One by one, checking their heads (which is really rather personal and you feel a bit like a baboon going through another person’s heads with chop sticks), I got to have a little visit with the other kids in my children’s school. I knew kids by name and learned a little something about them so I could say “hello” on the school yard to so many of them.

3) I got very skilled at finding those little critters and their nits and differentiating them from hair casts and dandruff, so my own kids benefitted from my keen eye as I got better at “early detection.”  I got a reputation as being the “lice lady” and could offer my services to moms who wondered, “Is this a nit?” “Go ask Alyson to check your kids head!” Ah, nice to share my talents and help others. I was developing my “social interest,” as Adler calls it.

4) When my kids had to be treated and have their nits removed, it was a nice quiet time together, usually involving hot chocolate and watching a movie together and often missing a day of school. Any “exception to the normal day” was a bit of a treat for us both.  We made it an occasion.

5) When I was in the hallways doing the head checks, I could overhear the teachers in the classroom. This gave me a “peek” into various teaching styles that I never would have seen if I was “officially” visiting the class.  Who doesn’t act differently when there is a visitor in the class? So it was a good way to get to know the teachers of the school too. The good, the bad and ugly of that.

6) I learned a LOT about lice and could calm people’s fears. Lice like clean hair, not dirty hair, for example.  Yes, they are a hassle to deal with, but are they are not dangerous.  And yes indeed, the incident of infestation does drastically drop after about grade two.  I needed to see that for myself when it seemed a bit “perpetual” that first year.

So – if you get the note home saying, “Nits have been found in your child’s classroom,” don’t have a hissy fit.  Check their hair and don’t pass judgment on others. This is a part of the stuff of life and if you get a good attitude going, you can find the upside to anything.  Now shall we talk about pin worms? No – maybe not.

Fighting the Good Fight

The Nitty-Gritty on Lice and Your Family

When they take up lodging on our kids’ heads, lice don’t just gross us out. They wage an all-out assault on our confidence as parents.

Because I had been informed about lice in various kindergarten classrooms at our neighborhood school, I was vigilant about checking my little one’s head daily. However, when I took him and his brother for a haircut, I was shocked to learn that they both had lice. I felt like I had failed as a parent since I hadn’t discovered these tiny, creepy, crawly bugs on my own. Then I armed myself with information. I started talking to people about these pests that frankly, are just as likely to have a place in your homelife as ants or mosquitoes.

What Are We Up Against?

You’ll find lice (not that you’re looking for them!) Anywhere there are groups of children – public schools, private schools, camps, on sports teams, you name it. They have been around for thousands of years and are found worldwide and in all socioeconomic groups. People may not be shouting it from the rooftops, but chances are very good that you know someone who has dealt with these critters.

The adult louse is approximately the size of a sesame seed, and is usually beige to grayish-white. These egg-laying-machines can live for two to three weeks, and since new eggs are constantly being laid, the bothersome cycle potentially repeats itself. Although they do not jump or fly, they crawl very quickly and avoid light, making them difficult to locate. After prolonged exposure and sensitivity to saliva (about four to six weeks), the scalp may itch. Only about half of people dealing with lice will experience this reaction. Around here, one of my boys reported that his head didn’t itch, while the other scratched vigorously, and non-stop.

Eggs are even smaller than lice (about the size of a comma on this page), and are camouflaged when they blend in with hair color, which means finding these tiny pests is even more challenging. Empty egg casings, called nits, may be more visible, since they often appear white on darker hair. Unlike dandruff, they are firmly attached to the hair shaft. Hot spots for nits are around the ears and at the nape of the neck.

Comb-outs are time-consuming, but with short-haired boys we probably lucked out. Another plus for lice prevention? Your guys are more likely to wear a hat and less likely to share it with a friend. Trading hats, headbands, and the like is much more common with girls.

Jenny, a Richmond mother of two girls, ages seven and twelve and both with long hair, says that although no parent wants to admit it while chatting on the sidelines at a soccer game or over coffee, it’s hard to find a family who hasn’t dealt with lice at some point. She shared that at first, she tried the standard over-the-counter treatment, but “at the end of the day, I had to use a prescription topical treatment to get rid of it for good.”

Jenny warned, “You do not get rid of them with one treatment. It was very time-consuming, since it can take hours of combing through over days – or weeks – to get those blasted nits out. I just wanted it done with.” Depending on the treatment and stage of infestation, multiple treatments and comb-outs are typical, and will vary, based on the type of treatment and the life cycle of the louse. Add to this the extra laundry to clean bedding, and the logistics required for one more comb-out before school, and these measures can be labor intensive.

Then there’s that confidence factor and the thoughts that race through your mind. “I hated thinking about my children having bugs in their hair. I was very concerned about letting the parents of their friends know and notifying the schools immediately, so that precautions could be taken,” Jenny explained. “I wanted other parents to be as diligent as I was about prevention, like not sharing hats, hair accessories, combs, or brushes. But it is also a fine line when informing others, because you have to do it in a way that doesn’t freak people out!”

And as parents, we do freak out. Remember that haircut visit? In the parking lot, I texted my husband one word: LICE! Although I tried my best to calmly discuss the situation with my sons in the car, the scene was anything but. Before I knew it, the boys were complaining of itching, and scratching all over. I had barely pulled into the driveway when they ran into the house yelling to my husband, “WE HAVE LICE!” After a few minutes, I collected myself and the treatment regimen began. Once it became routine, it wasn’t such a big deal.

What the Experts Say

Richmond pediatrician Charles V. Terry, MD, usually recommends over-the-counter remedies as the first line of treatment. “Although there has been some resistance to these treatments in recent years, they can still be effective,” says Dr. Terry. If the note comes home with your child that head lice is present in the classroom, according to Dr. Terry, the first course of action is to check your child’s scalp in good light. It can be helpful to use a lice/nit comb to accomplish this. “Even if your child has been exposed, it is not necessary to treat them, as long as they have a negative exam. Instead, keep checking them regularly for a few weeks.” Dr. Terry explains, “If you do see lice or nits, then treat it by following the directions on over-the-counter packaging.”

Dr. Terry says there are certain instances when a doctor may recommend a prescription treatment first. “Prescription treatment is usually used in cases of a particularly severe infestation, or if the other children who they have been exposed to [in the class or group] have experienced frequent reoccurrences.” The pediatrician says to talk with your child’s doctor about next steps if you find yourself in one of these situations. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), if your child is under two, check with your doctor first before using an over-the-counter treatment.

Suzie Trotter, RN, public health nurse supervisor for school health services for Chesterfield County Health Department, explains that part of the challenge parents face is the confusing array of products on the market. “Products that are labeled ‘lice repel’ or ‘lice shield’ are not actually designed to kill lice. The choices can be overwhelming. If you have any questions about which products actually kill lice, talk to your pharmacist,” advises Trotter.

Clinic assistants and school nurses (if your school has one), are a good resource for families and can help answer questions you may have about your child’s lice and help break the cycle. Trotter explains, “These professionals are an excellent resource. The nurses value confidentiality of all students and provide assessments in schools utilizing space that is available for privacy, while still being sensitive to preserving the student’s self-esteem. The individual student is screened and counseled by the nurse.” Trotter adds that counseling includes encouraging the student not to speak about the assessment with other students. Additionally, the nurse also talks with the parent and school staff individually reassuring each of the process and the importance of not singling any one student out for an infestation. Finally, Trotter says, “The nurse then follows up with the particular student in need, to evaluate the treatment success and support the student’s emotional needs.”

Echoing Beverly Man’s sentiments, Trotter said, “Although lice are icky and a nuisance, they do not carry disease and won’t adversely affect the health of children.” The Health Department official cautions adults not to get wrapped up in the blame mindset. “It’s best to put all of your energy into treatment and prevention for reoccurrence.” In fact, according to the AAP, a child with an active head lice infestation likely has had the infestation for a month or more by the time it’s discovered – making it very difficult, if not impossible to track back to the original source.

An additional emotional toll on kids and their caregivers comes with the stigma often associated with having lice. Despite the fact that lice actually prefer clean hair (it is more difficult for lice to grab on to oily hair), the perception that only kids with dirty hair get lice is still common – and inaccurate.

Finally, in addition to avoiding the blame game, a positive attitude and a sense of humor are essential. My husband and I found ourselves singing “It’s a small world, after all!” as we were nitpicking with visions of a tiny flea circus in action.

Saying that lice are a nuisance is, well, an understatement. We all know treatment is time-consuming, expensive, and it takes an emotional toll. Not to mention the paranoia it can induce with itching at the mere mention of the word (one glance at the first note from school left me scratching to no end)! But all in all, there is no pain and there is no spread of disease. If your family gets lice, consider it a rite of passage. And if you haven’t had to cross this bridge yet, cross your fingers, knock on wood, and tuck this article away for reference, just in case.

Smartphones blamed for the dramatic rise in head lice as schoolchildren gather together to view the screens

Smartphones have been blamed for a dramatic rise in head lice among schoolchildren because they encourage youngsters to gather round in groups, allowing the bugs to jump between heads.

A study of more than 200 youngsters found those owning a smartphone - or tablet - were more than twice as likely to be infested with lice.

Out of the 98 who did not have or use either type of device 29 (29.5 per cent) experienced head lice - compared to 65 of the 104 (62.5 per cent) who did.

Almost half of the participants had lice at some point in the previous five years, up to 22 times more than the figure of two to eight percent that has been calculated in the past.

However taking regular selfies was not a major factor in the rise contrary to previous suggestions.

In 2015, Wisconsin GP Sharon Rink coined the phrase 'social media lice', claiming the upsurge in head lice was caused by group selfies, which caused friends to bump heads. 

Dr Tess McPherson, of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Compared to previous estimates of head lice incidence our figures were much higher, showing that almost half of children have had them in the last five years, which may not come as a surprise to parents.

"We also noted that children with smartphones or tablets were more likely to get head lice, which is interesting but we can only guess that this is due to the way that young people gather around them, though there could be other reasons.

"Selfie culture gets its fair share of negative press so it's worth noting that despite previous speculation it seems that selfies can't specifically be blamed for helping the spread of head lice at this stage."

The study presented at the British Association of Dermatologists annual conference in Liverpool said previous estimates of the prevalence of head lice in British children "may be conservative."

It found 91 (45 per cent) of the children had had head lice in the last five years, a longer period than covered by earlier research.

Girls with siblings aged six to nine were most commonly affected.

Matthew Gass, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: "Head lice are a pain to deal with, both for children and their parents.

"Speaking from experience, they are intractable misery bugs that take far more time and effort to remove than is reasonable.

"Not to mention the obligatory quarantine period that they necessitate. That's why a better understanding of how these pests are transmitted is useful.

"Prevention is always better than a cure, particularly if the cure means wrenching your poor daughter's hair with a fine-toothed nit comb, or relying on over-the- counter remedies that head lice are increasingly resistant to.

"We're not saying that smartphones are causing children to get head lice, but that there is a link, so if there's an outbreak at home or at school, consider how electronic devices might cause children to congregate, allowing head lice to spread."

In the study questionnaires were given to parents or guardians attending the paediatric outpatient department at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, over a one-month period.

The survey collected information on sex, hair length, socioeconomic status and smartphone or tablet ownership.

Head lice live in hair and are particularly common in four to eleven year-olds - causing an itchy scalp and general discomfort.

They range in size from the size of a pinhead to that of a sesame seed and are a whitish or grey-brown colour.

A variety of treatments to get rid of head lice are available to buy from pharmacies, supermarkets, as well as online and you don't usually need to visit your GP to tackle the problem.

You catch them via direct head to head contact, where they climb from one person's hair to another's - they cannot jump, swim or fly.

They are very unlikely to be spread by items such as combs, hats or pillows and are specific to people - you can't catch them from animals.

Contrary to the old wives' tale, head lice have no preference for dirty or clean hair - nor short or long. They usually die within 12-24 hours of being removed from hair.