Answers to your lice questions:◀ Back To Blog
September 6, 2012
Yesterday our blog discussed signs of lice as September is Lice Prevention Month. Today, we are digging deeper into common questions about lice.
Are Lice Contagious?
Lice are highly contagious and can spread quickly from person to person, especially in group settings (schools, childcare centers, slumber parties, sports activities, and camps).
Though they can't fly or jump, these tiny parasites have specially adapted claws that allow them to crawl and cling firmly to hair. They spread mainly through head-to-head contact, but sharing clothing, bed linens, combs, brushes, and hats can also help pass them along. Kids are most prone to catching lice because they tend to have close physical contact with each other and often share personal items.
And you may wonder if Fido or Fluffy may be catching the pests and passing them on to your family. But rest assured that pets can't catch head lice and pass them on to people or the other way around.
Your doctor can recommend a medicated shampoo, cream rinse, or lotion to kill the lice. These may be over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications, depending on what treatments have already been tried. Medicated lice treatments usually kill the lice and nits, but it may take a few days for the itching to stop. For very resistant lice, an oral medication might be prescribed.
It's important to follow the directions exactly because these products are insecticides. Applying too much medication — or using it too frequently — can increase the risk of causing harm. Follow the directions on the product label to ensure that the treatment works properly.
Treatment may be unsuccessful if the medication is not used correctly or if the lice are resistant to it. After treatment, your doctor may suggest combing out the nits with a fine-tooth comb and also may recommend repeating treatment in 7 to 10 days to kill any newly hatched nits.
Here are some simple ways to get rid of the lice and their eggs, and help prevent a lice re-infestation:
- Wash all bed linens and clothing that's been recently worn by anyone in your home who's infested in very hot water (130° F [54.4° C]), then put them in the hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes.
- Have bed linens, clothing, and stuffed animals and plush toys that can't be washed dry-cleaned. Or, put them in airtight bags for 2 weeks.
- Vacuum carpets and any upholstered furniture (in your home or car).
- Soak hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo for 1 hour. You can also wash them in hot water or just throw them away.
Because lice are easily passed from person to person in the same house, bedmates and infested family members will also need treatment to prevent the lice from coming back.
In your efforts to get rid of the bugs, there are some things you shouldn't do. Some don'ts of head lice treatment include:
- Don't use a hair dryer on your child's hair after applying any of the currently available scalp treatments because some contain flammable ingredients.
- Don't use a cream rinse or shampoo/conditioner combination before applying lice medication.
- Don't wash your child's hair for 1 to 2 days after using a medicated treatment.
- Don't use over the counter sprays or hire a pest control company. A pest control company cant unfortunately help with lice.
- Don't use the same medication more than three times on one person. If it doesn't seem to be working, your doctor may recommend another medication.
- Don't use more than one head lice medication at a time.
Having head lice is not a sign of uncleanliness or poor hygiene. The pesky little bugs can be a problem for kids of all ages and socioeconomic levels, no matter how often they do — or don't — clean their hair or bathe.
However, you can help to prevent kids from getting lice — or from becoming reinfested with lice — by taking the following precautions:
- Tell kids to try to avoid head-to-head contact at school (in gym, on the playground, or during sports) and while playing at home with other children.
- Tell kids not to share combs, brushes, hats, scarves, bandanas, ribbons, barrettes, hair ties or bands, towels, helmets, or other personal care items with anyone else, whether they may have lice or not.
- Tell kids not to lie on bedding, pillows, and carpets that have recently been used by someone with lice.
- Every 3 or 4 days, examine members of your household who have had close contact with a person who has lice. Then, treat those who are found to have lice or nits close to the scalp.
Routine screening, early detection and thorough manual removal is the only way to safeguard against unnecessary and risky chemical treatments. This is also the best way for parents to have confidence they are bringing their children into school and other group settings lice and nit free.