How kids really get lice, how to get rid of it

Published On: Sep 16 2013 07:12:55 AM EDT
Updated On: Sep 16 2013 07:40:00 AM EDT

Many parents feel they can’t stop lice after discovering them in their kids’ hair, but with more than 15 million cases a year, it seems inevitable.  One of the first things parents should know about lice is how it spreads.

"What really will spread lice is very close contact, so being head to head, sharing hair accessories that type of thing, but just being in a classroom with a child that has lice does not spread it," explained Dr. Emma Raizman with Cleveland Clinic Children's.

Raizman says if your child seems to be scratching their head a lot you should check their scalp. 

If you spot something, try to determine if it's an active lice an infection.  A mild infection would consist of 1 or 2 lice, but a severe infection could involve 100-200.

But what can you do?  Forget washing in mayonnaise.  Lice can hold their breath for up to 30 minutes.

Raizman says over-the-counter lice treatments are very effective.  She says after it's applied, a lice comb is used to comb out the "nits."

Once that's done, start washing your child's bedding, hats, clothing, and anything else their head may have come into contact with.  Use hot water that's at least 130 degrees and for anything that you can't wash you should "bag it up."

"Anything that you can't wash you want to just put in a trash bag and let it sit for about two weeks because that's pretty much the life-cycle of the lice and so, if there are any eggs that will take care of it as well," said Raizman.

Parents also shouldn't worry about the little bloodsuckers hiding out in the family dog or cat's fur. Head lice can only live off of human blood, so locking pets outside or bathing them won't help to stop an outbreak.

The main culprit is direct head to head contact, like hugging and playing. Experts say kids are unlikely to pick up lice from hats, combs, or bike helmets. Studies show that once lice are off the scalp, they die within hours.

According to Parents.com, if you want to avoid pesticide shampoos for treating lice, mixing rosemary and tea tree oil into regular shampoo works.

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