Wednesday, April 14, 2010
It's the phone call every grade school parent dreads..."Come and pick Johnny up from school. He has lice". Before you scream "Ewwww" and hang your head in shame, you should know that head lice are a very common problem. In fact, only the cold is a more common communicable disease that affects school age children. The medical term for head lice is Pediculosis capitis.
This tiny insect is smaller than a sesame seed and feeds on the blood from your scalp. It is not a sign of bad personal hygiene and lice are spread through personal contact or sharing pillows, hats or other personal belongings. They are human parasites and do not live on pets. They don't have wings so they cannot fly and they don't have hind legs to jump.
The first photo above shows a scalp with an infection from scratching and tiny nits that are clinging to the hair shaft. Nits are the eggs of lice and they take 7-10 days to hatch. It takes another 7 days for the louse to mature and lay more eggs. During this time they are feeding on the scalp blood but they are so tiny it is often hard to see them.
What if you find head lice? You do not have to spray bedding or furniture and that would be toxic. Vacuuming and washing bedding and plush toys is all that is needed. You do not need to shave the head and that can be much more traumatic to the child than having lice. Over the counter lice shampoos generally do the trick and are used one week apart to make sure all of the hatched eggs are treated. The nits should be combed off of the hair shaft with a fine tooth comb and rubbing olive oil in the hair before coming makes it easier to get the nits off. There is no need to treat other family members unless lice or nits is found on them. A close inspection is needed of the hair shaft with special focus behind ears and at the neckline.
We coexist with many parasites and insects and lice are just another nuisance that humans deal with.
Posted by Toni Brayer, MD at 10:06 PM