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Facts about LICE | 22nd June, 2017

The head louse is a tiny, wingless parasitic insect that lives among human hairs and feeds on tiny amounts of blood drawn from the scalp. Lice (the plural of louse) are a very common problem, especially for kids. They are contagious, annoying, and sometimes tough to get rid of.

But while they are frustrating to deal with, lice are not dangerous. They do not spread disease, although their bites can make the scalp of your child itchy and irritated, and scratching can lead to infection.
It is best to treat head lice quickly once they are found because they can spread easily from person to person.
Signs of Head Lice
Although they are very small, lice can be seen by the naked eye. Here are things to look out for:
Scratching. With lice bites come itching and scratching. This is actually due to a reaction to the saliva of lice. However, the itching may not always start right away — that depends on how sensitive the skin of your child is to the lice. It can sometimes take weeks for kids with lice to start scratching. They may complain, though, of things moving around on or tickling their heads.
Small red bumps or sores from scratching. For some kids, the irritation is mild; for others, a more bothersome rash may develop. Excessive scratching can lead to a bacterial infection (this can cause swollen lymph glands and red, tender skin that might have crusting and oozing). If your doctor thinks this is the case, he or she may treat the infection with an oral antibiotic.
You may be able to see the lice or nits by parting the hair of your child into small sections and checking for lice and nits with a fine-tooth comb on the scalp, behind the ears, and around the nape of the neck.
See your doctor if your child is constantly scratching his or her head or complains of an itchy scalp that would not go away. The doctor should be able to tell you if your child is infested with lice and needs to be treated. Not all kids have the classic symptoms of head lice and some can be symptom-free.
Are Lice Contagious?
Lice are highly contagious and can spread quickly from person to person, especially in group settings (like schools, childcare centers, slumber parties, sports activities, and camps).
Though they cannot fly or jump, these tiny parasites have specially adapted claws that let them crawl and cling firmly to hair. They spread mainly through head-to-head contact, but sharing clothing, bed linens, combs, brushes, and hats also can pass them along. Kids are most prone to catching lice because they tend to have close physical contact with each other and share personal items.
And you may wonder if lice may be catching the pests and passing them on to your family. But rest assured that pets cannot catch head lice and pass them on to people or the other way around.
Your doctor can recommend a medicated shampoo, cream rinse, or lotion to kill the lice. These may be over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications, depending on what treatments have already been tried. Medicated lice treatments usually kill the lice, but it may take a few days for the itching to stop. For very resistant lice, an oral medication (medicine taken by mouth) might be prescribed.
Make sure that the medicine is safe for the age of your. While over-the-counter shampoos are safe for kids as young as 2 months, other medicines are only safe for kids 2 years and older. It is important to follow the directions exactly because these products are insecticides. Applying too much medication — or using it too often — can increase the risk of harm.
Treatment may be unsuccessful if the medication is not used correctly or if the lice are resistant to it. After treatment, your doctor may suggest combing out the nits with a fine-tooth comb and also may recommend repeating treatment in 7 to 10 days to kill any newly hatched nits.
Removing By Hand
If your child is 2 months old or younger, you should not use medicated lice treatments. You will need to remove the nits and lice by hand.
To remove lice and nits by hand, use a fine-tooth comb on the wet hair of your child, conditioned hair every 3 to 4 days for 3 weeks after the last live louse was seen. Wetting the hair beforehand is recommended because it temporarily immobilizes the lice and the conditioner makes it easier to get a comb through the hair.
Wet combing is also an alternative to pesticide treatments in older kids. Though petroleum jelly, mayonnaise, or olive oil are sometimes used in an attempt to suffocate head lice, these treatments may not work. If medicine does not work and you want to try these methods, talk to your doctor first.
Make sure you remove nits carefully every week for at least 3 weeks in a row, and watch your child closely to see if any live lice return.
Preventing Reinfestation
Here are some simple ways to get rid of the lice and their eggs, and help prevent a lice reinfestation:  
  • Wash all bed linens and clothing that has been recently worn by anyone in your home who is infested in very hot water (130°F [54.4°C]), then put them in the hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes.
  • Dry clean anything that cannot be washed (like stuffed animals). Or put them in airtight bags for at least 3 days.
  • Vacuum carpets and any upholstered furniture (in your home or car), then throw away the vacuum cleaner bag.
  • Soak hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo for 1 hour. You also can wash them in hot water or just throw them away.
Because lice are easily passed from person to person in the same house, bedmates and infested family members also will need treatment to prevent the lice from coming back.
Do nots
In your efforts to get rid of the bugs, there are some things you should not do. Some do nots of head lice treatment include:
  • Do not use a hairdryer on the hair of your child after applying any of the currently available scalp treatments because some contain flammable ingredients. A hair dryer could also cause live lice to blow into the air and spread to others nearby.
  • Do not use a conditioner or shampoo/conditioner combination before applying lice medication.
  • Do not wash the hair of your child for 1 to 2 days after using a medicated treatment.
  • Do not use sprays or hire a pest control company to try to get rid of the lice, as these treatments can be harmful. Head lice do not survive long once they fall off a person, so you do not need to spend a lot of time and money trying to rid the house of lice.
  • Do not use the same medication more than three times on one person. If it does not seem to be working, your doctor may recommend another medication.
  • Do not use more than one head lice medication at a time.
  • Do not use essential oils (such as ylang ylang oil or tea tree oil) to treat lice on the scalp. These oils can lead to allergic reactions on the scalp and have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Also, there are no studies to show whether or not such treatments actually work.
  • Do not use chemicals such as gasoline or kerosene on the hair. These are highly flammable and should never be used to treat lice on anyone.
Tips to Remember
These tips can help to prevent kids from getting lice (or from becoming reinfested):
  • Tell kids to try to avoid head-to-head contact at school (in gym, on the playground, or during sports) and while playing at home with other children.
  • Tell kids not to share combs, brushes, hats, scarves, bandanas, ribbons, barrettes, hair ties or bands, towels, helmets, or other personal care items with anyone else, whether they may have lice or not.
  • Tell kids not to lie on bedding, pillows, and carpets that have recently been used by someone with lice.
Every 3 or 4 days, examine members of your household who have had close contact with a person who has lice. Then, treat any who are found to have lice or nits close to the scalp.
If you have followed every recommendation and your child still has lice, it could be because:
  • Some nits were left behind
  • Your child is still being exposed to someone with lice
  • The treatment you are using is not effective
If your child still has lice 2 weeks after you started treatment or if the scalp of your child looks infected, call your doctor.
No matter how long the problem lasts, be sure to remind your child that although having lice can certainly be very embarrassing, anyone can get them. It is important for kids to understand that they have not done anything wrong and that having lice does not make them dirty. And reassure them that as frustrating as getting rid of the lice can be, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Be patient and follow the treatments and prevention tips as directed by your doctor, and you will be well on your way to keeping your family lice-free.
Karen Arthur/ ghanahospitals.org

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