What Parents Need to Know About: Lice

Carleen Hanson, MD

Dr. Hanson, Pediatrician, Meriter West Washington

Lice – just the word is enough to make any parent shudder and get the heebie-jeebies!

When I received not one, but two e-mails with the subject “Lice” a few weeks ago, my heart sank.  Two of my daughter’s good friends were found to have lice, so I was on high alert. I systematically checked my daughter’s long hair a few times a week and bought a box of treatment to have available just in case. After a few checks with no nits and no lice, I was thankful that we seemed to be in the clear.

Then, a few weeks later I was sitting next to my daughter and actually saw a louse crawling on her scalp between her braids.  My daughter freaked out (turns out, even though her friends had lice and they had talked about it, she didn’t really understand what it meant – she thought that lice were huge insects that would lay chicken size eggs on her hair). Once I reassured her and showed her what the louse looked like, I pulled out the treatment, immediately washed her hair with the smelly shampoo and systematically combed her hair all out. I called my husband who was with my son at a friend’s house, and they came home.  We found a single louse on my son’s head, so he received the treatment as well. We then spent the rest of the weekend in intense cleaning mode. (I’ve never done so much laundry in my life.) My kids are being troopers with this whole ordeal – we’re still checking and combing every other day with no further lice or unhatched nits…so far.

A few things to know about lice:

  1. Lice can happen to anyone.  It doesn’t mean that you, your child or your home is dirty. In fact, lice prefer clean hair since it’s easier for them to hold on to.
  2. Lice are common – other than the common cold, it’s the most frequent communicable disease in children, and it’s estimated that 1 out of every 4 kids will be affected at some point. 80% of schools have outbreaks each year.
  3. Lice don’t jump. They don’t fly either. The only way to get them is to actually have contact with them. Kids frequently get them because they often put their heads close together. Or, they share hats or have their coats hung close together at school.
  4. Lice aren’t immortal. If they aren’t on your head, they only live for 1-2 days at most.  Nits can survive longer, but once they hatch, if there isn’t a human head nearby, the louse will still die within a day or two. This is important to keep in mind as you do your cleaning in your home.
  5. Lice don’t transmit disease. They can cause itching on scalp due to an allergic reaction to lice saliva, but they don’t cause illness.
  6. Lice are treatable many different ways. There are over-the-counter and prescription topical treatments, prescription oral treatments, as well as many other “word-of-mouth” treatments. You can also just do very careful combing on a regular basis and try to avoid any medications.

The bottom line is that lice are a pain in the butt. I don’t wish them on anyone, but they aren’t the end of the world…they may just ruin your weekend.

Dr. Carleen Hanson
Meriter West Washington

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