Head Lice Prevention

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Question

Is there anything I can do to prevent my child from getting it?

Answer

While head lice can often spread rapidly in school populations, there are steps to take to prevent being infected - and also steps to take to get rid of lice.

Head lice is a very common infection that occurs among children and teenagers. They are at highest risk because they usually are in close contact with other children (through school or day care) and tend to share personal belongings. The only way to prevent head lice is to tell your child not to share personal items such as combs, brushes, scarves, hats, helmets, or hair accessories with anyone. Also, tell her to avoid head-to-head contact with other children while playing. Avoiding the use of bedding or pillows immediately after someone infected with head lice is also recommended. Using a medicated product for the treatment of head lice - such as Nix® or Rid® - is not a preventive measure.

Parents who get a note from school about an outbreak of head lice should follow these steps:

Check your child's hair for lice and nits (lice eggs) every three to four days. Nits commonly look like dandruff, but they cannot be easily brushed off the hair. Also check behind the ears.

Be alert to symptoms of infection: intense itching, red bumps on the scalp, or the feeling of something moving on the hair. If your child experiences any of these symptoms and/or if head lice can be seen in the hair, then using a medicated shampoo is recommended. (Follow the directions on the package.) Note: If your child is under 2 years of age or if you are pregnant, talk with your doctor first before beginning treatment. Notify your child's school.

In addition to using medicated shampoo, wash all clothing and bed linens in hot water (130 degrees Fahrenheit). Any items that cannot be washed in hot water should be placed in large, sealed garbage bags for two weeks. Vacuum all carpets and furniture.

Any combs, brushes, and hair accessories used by the infected person should be left to soak in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo for one hour, or they should be replaced.

Some people may need to retreat with a medicated shampoo after seven to 10 days. If the infection has not cleared up after two weeks of treatment or there are sores on the scalp that look infected (yellow pus), stop treatment and see a doctor.

Visit our Health Encyclopedia to learn more about head lice.

View our hair care products for lice treatment.

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