© 2017 by Grafton-Taylor County Health Department.

718 West Main Street, Grafton, WV 26354

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The itchy truth about lice

January 25, 2017

With the mere mention of today’s topic, I can guarantee that you will instantly start scratching and itching.  Are you ready?  LICE!  Be honest, you’re scratching, aren’t you? 

Yes, these parasitic insects can be found on people’s heads, and bodies, including on the eyebrows and eyelashes and, well … some more unmentionable areas. 

Today, we are going to focus on head lice. 

Head lice infest the head and neck, and attach their eggs to the base of the hair shaft.  Head lice feet are specially adapted for holding onto human hair. 

They survive by feeding on human blood. 

Itching will be the most common symptom of a head lice infestation and is caused by an allergic reaction to louse bites.  Other symptoms may include: a tickling feeling or a sensation of something moving in the hair; irritability and difficulty sleeping – head lice are most active in the dark; and sores on the head caused by scratching.   

Head lice infestation, or pediculosis, is spread most commonly by close person-to-person contact.  However, much less frequently they are spread by sharing clothing or belongings onto which lice have crawled or nits (lice eggs) attached to shed hairs may have fallen. The risk of getting infested by a louse that has fallen onto a carpet or furniture is very small. Head lice survive less than 1-2 days if they fall off a person and cannot feed; nits cannot hatch and usually die within a week if they are not kept at the same temperature as that found close to the scalp.

To debunk some “facts” I’ve heard since my much younger years … Lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly.  Also, dogs, cats, and other pets do not play a role in the transmission of human lice.  Even as much as these little pests can cause great concern for parents, they are not known to transmit any disease, and therefore are not considered a health hazard according to the CDC. 

For parents of children in day care and school, you should examine your child’s head, especially behind the ears and at the nape of the neck for crawling lice and nits if your child exhibits symptoms of a head lice infestation.  If crawling lice or nits are found, all household members should be examined for crawling lice and nits every 2 – 3 days.  Persons with live (crawling) lice or nits within ¼ inch or less of the scalp should be treated.  To eliminate head lice successfully, it is very important that all treatment instructions and steps be carefully followed and completed. 

The following are steps recommended by the CDC that can be taken to help prevent and control the spread of head lice:

  • Avoid head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact during play and other activities at home, school, and elsewhere (sports activities, playground, slumber parties, camp).

  • Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons, or barrettes.

  • Do not share combs, brushes, or towels. Disinfest combs and brushes used by an infested person by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5-10 minutes.

  • Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets, or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with an infested person.

  • Machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens, and other items that an infested person wore or used during the 2 days before treatment using the hot water (130°F) laundry cycle and the high heat drying cycle. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag and stored for 2 weeks.

  • Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the infested person sat or lay.

  • Do not use fumigant sprays or fogs; they are not necessary to control head lice and can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

 

To help control a head lice outbreak in our community, children can be taught to avoid activities that may spread head lice.

 

For more information on how to prevent and treat lice infestations, please call Stacy Smith, Public Health Nurse at the Grafton-Taylor County Health Department, at 304-265-1288.  

 

The Grafton-Taylor County Health Department is featured in the Mountain Statesman every Wednesday in the Editorial section.

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