Head Lice

Head lice are common in children. Lice are small, grayish-white, wingless bugs about the size of tiny ants. They live on human blood. Lice lay oval, hard, whitish nits (eggs) on the hair shaft, usually less than half an inch from the scalp. It takes about six days for nits to hatch. The nits often are found attached to hair at the back of the neck but can also be found in any hairy area of the body.

Lice are spread where people are crowded together or have frequent contact. Head lice can't hop or jump. They spread through touching items such as hats, sports helmets, brushes, combs, pillows, backs of chairs, or car seats that have lice on them, or by close contact with people who have lice.

Once head lice infestation starts, it can spread quickly and fast action is needed to get rid of the pest.

Symptoms

Lice cause severe itching from their bites, especially behind the ears and on back of the neck. If you think your child or another family member has head lice, call your doctor's office. After medical center hours, contact the Consulting Nurse Service.

Treatment

The usual treatment is a medicated shampoo or cream rinse that will kill both the lice and the nits.

Note: It's very important that the treatment last for the length of time noted on the medication. Don't rewash hair or use any other hair product that day. Repeat the treatment only if told to by your doctor.

Prevention

Note: Washington State Board of Health Administrative Code (WAC) 248.101.120 states that any child with lice should be kept out of school until adequately treated. When lice are found in school children, adequate control will often require an initial examination of all the children and their family members as well as a follow-up visit.

Please note, however, that head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no healthy child should be excluded from or miss school because of head lice.


Clinical review by Emily Chao, DO
Group Health
Reviewed 02/15/2012