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How To Deal with Head Lice As the School Season Begins. By Our Student Pharmacist, Reham Okab.


Back to school season has officially begun. This means that many kids are coming in close contact with each other at school or during their after school activities. Besides getting sick, during this season, there is quite an increase in the number of head lice cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 6-12 million cases of head lice each year among children aged 3-11 years old in the United States.

In this post, I will be discussing head lice, including what it is and how it can be treated.

So what exactly is head lice and what does it look like?

Head lice, or pediculus humanus capitisi, is an insect that lives on hair shafts, the back of the ears, neck, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Lice feeds off the blood in the scalp.

The life cycle of lice is three weeks. Lice start off in the egg (nit) form, then become a nymph, and then an adult. All three forms are very small in size, but they can still be detected with the naked eye. The eggs are yellow/white color and they are often mistaken for dandruff. The nymphs and adults can be seen moving on the hair.

What are the symptoms? How do you confirm an active case?

The most common symptom of head lice is itching of the scalp. By looking for moving nymphs or adult forms, one can confirm an active case of head lice.


What over-the-counter products are used for the treatment?

Nix (permethrin) and Rid (pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide) are both effective treatment options. They work by causing paralysis and death of the lice.

Nix is applied to damp hair after shampooing; it is left on for 10 minutes and then rinsed with warm water. It is important to note that one must not use conditioner for their hair before using this product. Retreatment is not needed with Nix as it has a prolonged effect for up to 10 days after its use. The only time retreatment is needed is if active lice is detected 7-12 days after its use. Nix can be used in children 2 months and older.

Rid is a shampoo product that must be applied to dry hair and left on for 10 minutes. Afterwards, the hair should be wetted, messaged, and rinsed. Unlike Nix, treatment with Rid must be repeated 7-12 days after the first time to ensure all of the eggs have been killed. Rid can only be used in children 2 years and older.

Both products are fairly simple to use. It is important to follow the directions on the package and make sure the product you chose is age appropriate. Regardless of the product chosen, a nit comb is recommended to brush out the lice from the hair.


What should be done to avoid the spread?

Lice can not fly, therefore the only way that they can infect others is via close contact. The best way to avoid infecting more people is to avoid close contact with others, especially if the person contracted lice. Avoid sharing personal items such as hats, hair brushes, and towels.

In the event of an infestation (besides treating the patient), you will want to make sure you wash any bedding, toys, and/or personal items such as towels and clothing. If it is something that can be placed in the washer, wash it on the highest temperature setting. If it cannot be placed in the washer, seal the item(s) in a plastic bag for two weeks; the idea behind this is to suffocate the lice. Checking all household members or others who came in close contact with the person who contracted lice is also important.

It can be a little overwhelming if your child contracts head lice. It is important to remind yourself that just because it was contracted it does not mean your family has poor hygienic practices or your child’s school is not clean.

If you have any questions or concerns on the topic, contact your pharmacist. They will be happy to help!



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