MOUNT VERNON — Close contact with another child with lice is the easiest way to spread the infestation, however, prompt and attentive treatment can alleviate the situation.
“The only way lice can spread is to crawl from head to head,” said Jackie Fletcher, nursing director of the Knox County Health Department. “So usually there has to be head-to-head contact, that is why it is more common in children because they usually play a lot closer.”
Live lice themselves are treated through a specific lice shampoo which kills the lice, said Fletcher. “But then you have to comb through the hair to get rid of what is called the nits. ... And that is what usually takes time and it is kind of a laborious thing because you have to comb through the hair and make sure you get all the nits out,” she said. “The nits, which are the eggs, are very close to the scalp because lice feed off of the scalp and that is where they are warm, too.”
Remnants found lower on the hair strands are the discarded casings of a nit.
Lice kits, which contain shampoo, conditioner and a lice comb, are available over-the-counter in the hair-care section of retail stores. The kits can be purchased through a family doctor.
Fletcher assures readers there is no need to be alarmed, cutting hair is not necessary.
“There is no reason that if it is a girl with long hair that they need to be shaving their heads or chopping their hair off,” she said.
Lice can only live for about 24 hours away from the hair before they will die. As for the eggs, they cannot survive off of the body; they have to be on the scalp itself to hatch.
Itching is the first indicator that lice could be a problem. However, during winter season dry scalp is not an uncommon thing. One way to tell the difference between dandruff and lice, dandruff can be easily flicked away while lice must be pulled or plucked from the hair.
“What causes the itching is the saliva that the lice produce which reacts with the scalp and that is what causes the child to scratch their head,” said Fletcher.
As long as the child has been treated, Fletcher explained, the child can go back to school. “The shampoo will usually get rid of the live lice and then the parent needs to go through the hair with a lice comb and just pull out the nits. And they really need to pay close attention to the nits that are close to the scalp.”
When dealing with lice, it is also very important to launder towels, bed linens, hats and cloths in hot water and then dry on the hottest setting. Also vacuuming the carpet is further recommended in this situation. Most importantly, Fletcher said, is avoiding head-to-head contact and sharing a comb.
“Lice is a problem. It gives everybody an icky feeling because you think you have creepy crawlers, but they don’t carry diseases so they are not life threatening,” said Fletcher.