Dr. Mickey Lester is a consulting pediatrician for the Hospital for Sick Children and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto. He also has a thriving private pediatric practice in Mississauga. Dr. Lester offers his insights for parents on "everything you wish you didn't have to know about head lice."
How do head lice spread? Can they jump from one person to another?
Head lice are wingless. They cannot fly or jump, but only crawl. They are spread through close head-to-head contact or by coming in contact with objects where lice have been deposited, such as scarves, head bands, hats, brushes, and combs.
How can I tell if my child has head lice?
The diagnosis of an "active" lice infestation can only be made by identifying a living louse in the hair. Lice are reddish brown in colour and are about the size of a sesame seed. They lay eggs called nits. Nits are "glued" to a hair shaft. The presence of nits alone does not indicate an active infestation. Nits are often mistaken for dandruff or sand, but unlike these materials, they stick firmly to the hair shaft and are difficult to remove.
To check for lice, divide the hair into sections and look carefully, one section at a time. Magnifying glasses may help. The "head hunt" should be done in a well-lit room. Pay close attention to the areas behind the ears and the nape of the neck.
How are head lice treated?
There are commercial products available that have been designed to kill lice. They can be purchased over the counter. A product called Resultz (isopropyl myristate 50%) has been shown to be effective in treating head lice at any stage in their development once hatched. It is free of traditional insecticides, odourless, and colourless, and each application takes just 10 minutes. A second application is recommended one week later. Follow the usage guidelines exactly as directed. Side effects are extremely uncommon and usually consist of a mild itchy rash on the scalp, which usually disappears within a day or so.
Should all family members be treated?
Treat all family members who have live lice. Family members with nits only need not be treated. Each member of the family should be checked on a daily basis for 10 to 14 days, and they should be treated only if a live louse is found.
Are there any home remedies for head lice?
Home remedies, such as "natural" and alternative products, include mineral oil, coconut oil shampoo, tea tree oil, and petroleum jelly, to name a few. These products have been tried but have never proven to be as effective as the over-the-counter treatments specifically designed to kill lice.
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