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Head Lice Do Not Take Summer Break
By Kelli McPhail
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Head lice have a reputation for spreading at school, but parents should not dismiss the problem during summer months.
Head lice are tiny insects that lay eggs, or nits, that stick to hair very close to the scalp. The nits are grayish white and oval-shaped.
Linda Patterson, health education associate specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said lice are easily transferred, and early detection should improve control efforts.
"Whether or not a family member has ever had lice, parents should check for lice at least once a week, and whenever a child is observed scratching their head," Patterson said. "Head lice are very common in groups, especially children."
Sharing combs, brushes, hair decorations, headphones, helmets, pillows, stuffed animals and towels can easily transmit lice from one person to another. Patterson suggested regularly cleaning brushes and combs in hot water to reduce the risk of transferring lice. Good hygiene helps detect lice earlier and improves control.
Once lice have settled into the hair, they can be removed several ways.
"The best way to treat the lice is with over-the-counter products such as lice-treatment shampoos and rinses," Patterson suggested.
When using the removal product, follow the package instructions carefully, and keep the product in the hair for the recommended amount of time.
If the lice do not go away after treatment, a second application can be used under certain conditions.
"Do not repeat a lice treatment before seven days, and never use it more than twice a year," Patterson said. "Each use of the product can increase the chances of scalp burns and toxic levels of pesticide being absorbed throughout the skin, particularly in children and pregnant women."
If the treatment does not work, it is still possible to remove the lice and nits. Patterson suggested the following tips as an alternative:
* Comb wet hair with an ordinary comb to remove snarls and to make sure the strands of hair are separate;
* Use a fine-toothed comb, or thumb nail to remove all the nits;
* Separate the hair into strands and check one strand at a time;
* Wipe nits from the comb or thumb often with a tissue and get rid of nits in a paper or plastic bag;
* When hair is dry, check again for nits. If nits are seen, remove them in the same way.
"This process may take a while, but it helps get rid of the lice if the treatment cannot be repeated," Patterson said.
The health specialist also suggested disinfecting personal items. Three ways to sanitize are by soaking the items in 2 percent disinfectant for one hour, soaking them in very hot or near-boiling water for 10 minutes or placing them in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer for 24 hours.
For more information on the program or how to prevent or remove lice, contact your county home economist. Each county extension office offers lice control programs.