The facts of lice

The facts of lice

The sight of your child incessantly scratching at their head is one no parent wants to see, as it often indicates one thing – lice.

Head lice are tiny insects that grow to the size of a sesame seed and feed on minuscule amounts of blood from the scalp. While lice brings on anxiety amongst parents due to the negative stigma, it’s not dangerous or life-threatening and is more of a pesky problem than anything else.

Dr. Abigail Ginn, a pediatric resident at Advocate Children’s Hospital, answers some common questions about lice and dispels a few myths along the way.

How do lice spread?

Contrary to popular belief, head lice cannot hop or jump; they can only crawl. The majority of lice transmission occurs as a result of direct contact in which one child’s head comes directly into contact with another. An indirect transfer, such as sharing personal items like a hairbrush or hat, is possible but seldom the case.

Does lice indicate someone is dirty?

No, head lice infestations are not related to personal hygiene or cleanliness. They also are not the result of frequent hair brushing or shampooing, which is another common myth. Lice does not discriminate, and all socioeconomic groups are affected.

Why are head lice more prevalent in children?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report an estimated 6 to 12 million lice infestations occur each year among children 3 to 11 years of age. Recess, sleepovers, sports and sharing of personal items make kids come into much closer contact with one another than adults.

Will OTC products cure my child’s lice?

While OTC products are available, identifying lice can be challenging because the insects move quickly and try to avoid light. Dandruff can also be easily mistaken for head lice. Due to the possibility of misdiagnosis and an emerging resistance of head lice to OTC medications, taking your child to a pediatrician is highly recommend. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against beginning treatment without an accurate diagnosis of living lice.

Should a child with lice stay home from school?

No, children with head lice do not need to miss school. Instead, if the lice are found while at school, children should be allowed to complete the day, visit their pediatrician to receive treatment and then return to school.

What steps need to be taken if your child has lice?

The AAP recommends the following tips to prevent the spread of lice in your household:

  • All other family members should be screened immediately
  • Avoid direct head-to-head contact with the person found to have lice
  • Disinfect combs and brushes by soaking them in hot water
  • Teach children not to share personal items like combs, hairbrushes and hats
  • Wash pillow cases and treat natural bristle hair care items with which the person diagnosed with lice may have come in contact

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About the Author

Julie Nakis
Julie Nakis

Julie Nakis, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. She earned her BA in communications from the University of Iowa – Go Hawkeyes! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, exploring the city and cheering on the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks.