Q. We just received the dreaded letter from school: There is a head lice outbreak in our daughter’s classroom. How do we know if she has lice? What should I do if she gets it and is there any way to prevent lice?
A. Head lice infestations are exceedingly common, affecting 6 million to 12 million children in the United States each year. Fall is the peak season for head lice, when children return to school following summer break.
Typically, the first sign is an itchy scalp. To catch lice early, parents should do weekly head checks for live lice or nits (lice eggs) on the hair shaft near the scalp. Sit in a well-lit area and comb through small sections of hair beginning at the nape of the neck. Nits are tiny, oval and white. They adhere to the hair shaft with a glue-like substance, unlike dandruff that is easily removed.
If your child has head lice, an over-the-counter shampoo such as Permethrin 1 percent (Nix) is the recommended first-line treatment. After the shampoo is used, it is important to comb through your child’s hair daily and remove the nits until the head lice are gone. The shampoo treatment should be repeated in 7-10 days.
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Your child’s recently worn clothing and bedding should be washed in hot water. Carpet and upholstered furniture should be vacuumed. Any items such as stuffed animals that cannot be washed should be placed in plastic bags for two weeks to ensure the lice have died before returning the items to the bed.
The best way to prevent head lice is to avoid sharing combs, brushes, hair accessories and headphones. There are several herbal shampoos and hair sprays that claim to prevent head lice infestation. Most of these contain ingredients such as lavender and rosemary. There is no scientific evidence that these products are effective.
There is some evidence, however, that hair products containing dimethicone (an ingredient that gives hair a shiny, smooth appearance) may help prevent lice.