New Britain City Journal

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Health

Ditch The Itch: What You Should Know About Head Lice

Head lice are small parasitic insects that live in the hair and scalp of humans. Between 6 and 12 million people get head lice each year, however many cases go unreported because individuals tend to resort to home remedies instead of seeking care of a health professional. While anyone can get head lice, children between the ages of three and ten are most commonly affected by the parasite and females are more affected than males.

Head lice are commonly thought to be caused by poor hygiene; however that is not the case. Ways in which lice can be spread from person to person include coming in contact with an infested person or objects throughout the house, wearing infested clothing, and using infested brushes or towels. In the school system, head lice are commonly spread in children because they are often participating in activities in which they are in close proximities to one another, as well as sharing hats and helmets. Once the parasite is brought home, it can then live within your beds, pillows, carpets, and couches for up to 24 hours. Head lice chooses you, you don’t choose it.

Symptoms of head lice include intense itching of the scalp. Itchy red bumps occur on the scalp, neck, and shoulders as a result of an allergic reaction from the saliva spread during biting. Some people however, do not experience these symptoms if it’s their first time being infected by head lice.

Early treatment of head lice is very important because complications such as skin sores and infections can arise due to excessive scratching. Over the counter shampoos, conditioners, home sprays, and laundry detergents are common remedies used to kill the parasite on humans and in the household. It is important to be aware of what kind of treatment you are using, because there are some that contain dangerous toxins. Treatments containing the chemical lindane should be avoided because it can be toxic to children and the elderly. Also, many types of head lice medications should not be used by women who are breast-feeding and/or pregnant. Eyebrows and eyelashes should not be treated with lice killing medicine. Before self-treating, it is important to speak to your doctor or health care provider because head lice medications can affect people with asthma, allergies, or other medical conditions. Some say mayonnaise and Vaseline can be used to wash the hair and eliminate head lice. The battle against head lice doesn’t end with the infested individual. You must also treat the entire family and household objects in order to completely eliminate the lice. Houseware that can go through the washer should be washed in hot water. Other objects that cannot go through the laundry should be sealed in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks to be sure eggs have hatched and died in this time frame. Bagging these household objects is effective because this parasite is unable to live off of a host for more than 24 hours.

Lice are an increasing problem among the population because they are becoming resistant to medicines used to treat them. Prevention is a key factor in avoiding the growing issue of head lice. The Directors of Health Promotion and Education, which is a group consisting of deans of health education in schools and directors of health education in state health departments, recommend the following steps to prevent head lice occurring in your family.

• Avoid direct contact with a person who has lice

• Watch for signs of lice (itching and yellow-white oval-shaped nits on the scalp)

• Educate children on not sharing combs, brushes, scarves, hair ribbons, helmets, headphones, hats, towels, bedding, or other personal items with other people.

• Make sure schools, camps, and child care centers provide separate storage areas and widely spaced coat hooks for clothing. Also sleeping mats should be assigned to one child and one child only

• Keep children with head lice home for at least a day in order to insure that the lice doesn’t spread to others.

Following specific precautions can prevent the spread of head lice to your loved ones as well as those around you.