Prevent the Spread of Head Lice as Kids Head Back to School

Submitted by the Oswego County Health Department

When September rolls around, kids head back to school with backpacks, notebooks, lunch boxes, and all too often, head lice. September is National Head Lice Prevention Month. Head lice infest 10 to 12 million people in the U.S. every year, making it one of the most common communicable conditions in America.

Head lice are small wingless insects that are the size of a sesame seed. Head lice feed on human blood, which can result in an itchy feeling, like a mosquito bite.

“Anyone can become infested with lice,” noted Dr. Dennis Norfleet, Oswego County Director of Public Health. “They spread person to person through direct contact.”

Sharing of hats, bedding, clothing, combs or brushes, or hair ties may result in the spread of these insects. Adult head lice can only live for about 24 to 48 hours off of the human host and cannot live on pets. Lice eggs, or nits, are oval in shape and white in color and are usually found glued to the hairs on the head close to the scalp. Normally, nits will hatch in seven to ten days. It takes about 10 to 12 days for lice to mature. Female lice then can lay six or seven eggs a day.

Medicated shampoos and rinses are available over the counter or by prescription to treat those infested with head lice.

“It is important to follow all directions on these products carefully,” warned Dr. Norfleet. These products will kill live lice, but it is important to pick out nits that remain attached to the hair shaft after treatment. Special combs are available to help with this, however using one’s fingernails to pull out the eggs may work best.

Wash all clothes and bedding in hot soapy water, and place in a clothes dryer on high heat. Objects that cannot be washed, such as toys, can be placed in a sealed plastic bag for seven to ten days. Vacuuming carpets and furniture may help, but treating things like toys and furniture with lice spray is no longer recommended, since lice cannot live off of people for longer than a couple of days.

“Encourage your children not to share hats, combs, and other personal items,”suggested Dr. Norfleet. Daily washing and changing of clothing will help discourage lice. Periodic inspections can help detect individual lice early and make controlling lice easier.

For more information about head lice call the Oswego County Health Department at 349-3547 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3547.