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Head Lice

Brief Version

What are head lice?

Head lice live only on human beings. They can be spread quickly by using the hat, comb, or brush of an infected person. The nits (eggs) normally hatch into lice within 1 week. Your child probably has lice if:

  • The nits (white eggs) are firmly attached to hairs. Unlike dandruff, nits can't be shaken off.
  • There are gray bugs (lice) in the hair about 1/16 inch long. They move quickly and are difficult to see.
  • Your child's scalp itches and has a rash.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Anti-lice shampoo or rinse. Your child's anti-lice shampoo is ______________________. Follow the directions. Most products must be used on dry hair. Pour about 2 ounces of the anti-lice shampoo into the hair. Add a little warm water to work up a lather. Scrub the hair and scalp for 10 minutes. Rinse the hair thoroughly. The shampoo kills both the lice and the nits. Repeat the shampoo in 1 week.
  • Removing nits. To make sure the nits are dead, wait at least 8 hours after using the shampoo before removing them. Remove the nits by combing the hair with a fine-tooth comb or pulling them out individually. The nits can be loosened by applying a mixture of half vinegar and half water.
  • Cleaning the house. Lice can't live more than 24 hours off the human body. Vacuum your child's room. Soak combs and brushes 1 hour in a solution made from the anti-lice shampoo. Wash your child's sheets and pillowcases in hot water. Items that can't be washed (hats or coats) can be sealed in plastic bags for 2 weeks (the longest that nits can survive).
  • Contagiousness. Check the heads of everyone living in your home. Treat anyone who has scalp rashes, sores, or itching. Also treat anyone who sleeps in the same bed with your child. Your child can return to school after the first treatment with the shampoo.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if:

  • The rash and itching are not gone 1 week after treatment.
  • The sores start to spread or look infected.
  • The lice and nits return.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by B.D. Schmitt, M.D., author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2001-12-11
Last reviewed: 2006-03-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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