An estimated 6 million to 12 million head lice infestations occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lice are spread through head-to-head contact, and incidentally, they prefer a clean head of hair to a dirty one. Next to the common cold, a case of head lice is the most common condition that affects younger children, mostly due to the fact that lice are highly contagious; however, once treated, a child can return to school the following day.

What are lice?

Lice are parasitic insects that feed off the blood of human scalps, so you won’t find them nestled in the fur of the family pet. They don’t jump or fly, and although they cause irritation and scratching, they don’t carry diseases.

A louse goes through several different stages in its very short life span. It starts as a nit, which resembles a small grain of sand attached to the scalp or hair shaft, but will grow to the size of a sesame seed. An infestation occurs when the adult louse starts to lay eggs (50 to 150 in all!) and each egg will produce 150 more nits.

Head lice vs. pubic lice 

Crabs, or pubic lice , attach themselves to pubic hairs and lay their eggs. An adult louse will feed off the human blood by inserting its mouth into small blood vessels in the skin. Symptoms of pubic lice include: intense itching, lice in the pubic hair, lice eggs on the hair shaft and genital lesions due to bites. Crabs can be passed on through sexual activity or close contact, and are very contagious.

To treat crabs, you can use over-the-counter lotions and the same shampoos that work to combat head lice. Grooming the pubic region can limit the space the lice have to live. In addition, washing contaminated items, such as bedding, clothing and towels, and cleaning the floors and furniture can prevent a secondary outbreak from occurring. If the shampoo does not kill the lice, consult your doctor about other treatments.


Treatment options

Use a pesticide-free shampoo treatment every three to four days. If one person in the family comes home with head lice, the chance of someone else in the family catching it is a whopping 80 percent, so make sure to seek treatment immediately. In addition, notify the school nurse so he or she can alert other parents and children.

Additional steps include:
• Avoid sharing hats, brushes, combs, clothing or helmets
• Have several treatments, three to four days apart
• Disinfect combs and brushes
• Machine wash clothing and bedding two days before and after treatment
• Vacuum floor and furniture, but don't fumigate
• Seal stuffed animals in plastic bags for two weeks

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