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More how-to guides for life
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
 
How to's for life A monthly guide
HOW TO AVOID AND GET RID OF
HEAD LICE


By Jack Broom, Seattle Times staff reporter

 
RELATED LINKS
· Lice at school? The big debate
Photo
CONFESSIONS OF A LOUSE: Officially, I'm "Pediculus humanus capitus." But my kind don't stand on formality. We show up uninvited on 6 million to 12 million American heads a year, mostly on kids from 3 to 12. We hide in hair, feed on blood and crawl from one head to the next. And we love the Northwest, where it never gets too cold for us. So skip the fancy Latin and just call us what everybody else does: head lice.

WHERE TO START: CHEMICAL WARFARE?

A key decision is whether to use a louse-killing medication. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends 1 percent permethrin, as contained in the product Nix.
 
WHAT ARE LICE?
· Are tiny, wingless insects; are gray, brown or black.
· Have legs, with claws for grasping hair.
· Bite and suck blood from the scalp, causing itching.
· Can hit any child and are not a sign of poverty or uncleanness.
· Are a nuisance, but do not spread disease.
· Move quickly, and away from light, making them hard to see.
But some organizations, including the nonprofit National Pediculosis Association, consider such medications potentially dangerous for youngsters, and say lice build up resistance. Your doctor can help you decide whether chemicals are the best choice.

Various "natural" products are also used to treat lice, such as HairClean 1-2-3, a spray with anise, ylang ylang, coconut oils and isopropyl alcohol. Such products are supposed to loosen nits, making them easier to comb out.

Other substances that are used to coat lice, thereby trapping and suffocating them before combing them out, include petroleum jelly, herbal oils and mayonnaise.

THE BATTLE: STEP BY STEP
 
 Photo
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA
Head lice don't have wings — they crawl from one head to another.
After applying a head-lice treatment or washing the hair with head-lice shampoo:

  • Place a towel between the hair and shoulders.
  • Arm yourself with a small-toothed, nit-removal comb.
  • Part the wet hair into four sections and pin it up.
  • Starting with one section, select a small area of about 1 inch square. Start at the scalp and pull the comb all the way through to the end of the hair.
  • If nits remain attached to the hair shaft, comb through again. Or pick them out with your fingertips.
  • After each comb-through, dip the comb in hot water and wipe it with a paper towel. Continue combing until all sections are done. After the hair is dry, look again for nits and pull them out by hand.
  • Wash the comb in extra-hot (130° F) soapy water for at least 10 minutes.
  • Wash hands completely. Wash the towel and clothes used during the combing.
Cutting the hair may make nitpicking easier.
 
THE LOUSE LIFE-CYCLE
Eggs are called nits and take six to nine days to hatch.
Nymphs hatch from the nit and are about the size of a pinhead.
Nymphs shed their exoskeletons — molt — three times before becoming an adult in about seven days.
The adult louse can live up to 30 days on a person's head. It feeds on blood several times a day.
The adult female louse can lay up to eight to 10 nits per day. The nits attach to hair shafts.
PREVENTION AND PERSISTENCE

Establish a nit-check day at home — once a week, even.

Look for little yellow-white ovals attached to individual hairs.

If anyone in the household has lice, check everyone.

Favorite lice hangouts? Hair behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.

Children at school should avoid head-to-head contact. Such contact, teachers and nurses say, is most common among girls from kindergarten to third grade.

Clothing and bedding, especially pillow cases, should be laundered frequently.

OTHER NIT-BITS
 
 Photo
A good nit comb usually has teeth that are very close together.
Need help in that search for nits? Try natural light and a magnifying glass.

Although research shows lice don't live long off the head, it may be prudent to avoid sharing hats and clothing.

Head lice are less prevalent among African Americans. Scientists say the more oval-shaped hair of African Americans is harder for lice to grab.

TEST YOUR NIT-WITS. TRUE OR FALSE?

1) Lice can fly.

2) Lice are a sign of dirty hair.

3) Head lice spread West Nile Virus.

4) We get head lice from our pets.

5) They can live in our closets for weeks.

Tell me the answers!

Sources:

Public Health-Seattle & King County
www.metrokc.gov/health/prevcont/headlice.htm

American Academy of Pediatrics
www.aap.org/policy/0203.html

National Pediculosis Association
www.headlice.org

The National Association of School Nurses
www.nasn.org/positions/nitfree.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/parasites/headlice/

Harvard University School of Public Health
www.hsph.harvard.edu/headlice.html

Answers to Nit-wits: All are false.
1) Lice can only crawl.
2) They thrive on clean hair because they can get a better grip.
3) Mosquitoes, not lice, spread West Nile Virus.
4) Head lice can't live on animals.
5) Lice can't live much more than 24 to 48 hours off a human host.

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