Could Your Child Have head lice?

Could Your Child Have head lice?

Amanda, a stay home mum living in Sharjah recently received a call from her six-year-old daughter Mary’s school nurse that they had found nits in her hair. “She asked me to come immediately to collect her. At that moment, I felt extremely embarrassed. I had not even really seen a nit or lice; I never had it as a child. And though I did notice Mary scratching a few times but never would have imagined it was this bad!” she laments.

What they are
Consultant and Clinical Professor in the GMC Hospital Paediatric Department Dr. Imad Ouda Al Sadoon tells that lice are tiny parasitic insects that can take up residence in a number of different places in the body and in fact, lice have been around for centuries. Head lice are actually wingless insects that can live for approximately three weeks. They are grey or brown in colour and are about two millimetres long when fully grown. The female lays up to six eggs a day, which she attaches to the hair near the scalp. The eggs hatch about eight days later. The unhatched eggs, which are called nits, are a yellow-white colour and are often mistaken for flakes of dry skin or dandruff. Unlike dandruff, nits stick to the hair and are difficult to remove. “The most common symptom is itching and most of the itching happens behind ears or back of the neck,” he says while nits look like small white or yellow brown specks and be firmly attached to the hair near the scalp and a rash at the nape of the neck may also develop. “Lice aren’t dangerous and they don’t spread diseases, but they are contagious and can spread quickly from person to person,” he says.

Why It Happens
Lice are equally likely to be found on clean or dirty hair. Children catch it easily at school when they have close (head to head) contact with other children with the same problem. However, they will not clear up on their own and should be treated promptly as nits are highly contagious and spread quite easily. Contrary to popular belief, head lice cannot jump, hop or fly; children often get head lice from close contact when playing together, whispering, hugging or when they are in close contact with an infected adult. Head lice may occur in anyone but are most common in children aged 4 to 11 because of their close contact with each other at school. Girls seem to be more prone to head lice than boys are. Researchers think this is because girls are more likely to put their heads together when they are playing or working. However, head lice cannot survive for long when away from the scalp and those found away from the head are usually dying.

According to Dr. Al Sadoon, some signs of head lice include intense scratching and excoriation of the skin. Head lice infection can cause an itchy head or neck, or a rash, which is often worse behind the ears or on the back of the neck. However, it is possible to have had head lice for several months before you notice any itchiness, and some people may not report itching at all. It is important to check your or your child’s hair if you have been in contact with someone with confirmed head lice, in order that all cases can be treated. Other signs of head lice infection are nits stuck to the hair as they grow out or lice droppings, which look like a fine, black powder that may be evident on pillows or sheets.

Head lice are hard to spot on the hair but can be removed, and then identified, by combing them out. The hair should be combed in sections using either a very fine-toothed comb or a special ‘nit comb’ – available from pharmacists. The hair may be easier to comb if it is wet, or if a few teaspoons of olive oil or hair conditioner are applied to the hair. It is important to comb the entire length of the hair from root to tip. After each stroke, the comb should be checked for lice. Treatment for lice can be completed at home by applying pediculicidal agents and cleaning the environment, says Dr. Al Sadoon. “Nits removal by fine tooth comb is necessary and always follows the direction of application strictly, repeat the application in 7 to 10 days, if live lice are present,” he says.

To prevent lice infestation at day-care centres and school settings, Dr. Al Sadoon encourages teachers, parents, and care providers to have carpeted areas frequently vacuumed as well as discourage body contact and sharing items between children such as hats, coats and combs. “Also knowing how to examine for lice is paramount,” he says and students especially have lockers available to store their clothing separately. ”And parents should aim to comb their child’s hair each day to have opportunity to discover the nits,” he says.

Once head lice infection is confirmed, there are a number of treatments available including insecticides and bug busting. Some types of insecticides include Malathion, Phenothrin, and Permethrin. This will kill the living lice, but may not kill the eggs. Louse eggs are more difficult to kill than live lice because the insecticide lotions do not penetrate the eggshell to get in to the developing louse. It may therefore be necessary to repeat the treatment after seven days to kill lice emerging from any eggs that survived the first application.

The treatment needs to be repeated a week later to destroy any lice that have hatched since the first treatment.

Whichever treatment is used, a follow-up check using a nit comb should be carried out a few days after the course of treatment. Clothes, bedding, and other items contacted by the infested person within 48 hours should be washed in hot water with a detergent and dried in clothes dryer. Alternate means of disinfecting articles include dry cleaning, isolation in a plastic bag for 10 days, or placing items in a freezer. Freezing is lethal to eggs, nymphs, and adults, as is a temperature of 125 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or more. To help prevent reinfestation, it is suggested that all family members be treated on the same day.

Lice can especially be problematic in families where one person will have the infection, spreads it to others and then has treatment for it. This cycle seems never-ending. To prevent it spreading in the family, avoid sharing combs if one child has the problem. Shorter hair, she adds, may be washed more frequently and brushed easily – this is a deterrent for any nits or lice.

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