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Staying Ahead of Head Lice

Head lice are tiny parasites that live on a person's scalp, neck and behind the ears. They cause itching and scratching, because the lice live off blood and their bites itch.

Lice are hard to find, but their eggs, or nits, can be seen attached to hairs.

Treating head lice

Shampoos containing a class of pesticides called pyrethrins are used to kill lice. Creams are available that loosen nits, the lice eggs that are firmly attached to the base of the hair. No over-the-counter or prescription treatment is totally safe or totally effective, according to the National Pediculosis Association.

The best way to remove nits is with a fine-tooth comb. If you have difficulty removing them, try using nit-removal cream.

To prevent getting lice, teach your children to never share hats, combs, brushes, hair pieces or pillows. Parents can provide protection so their children's heads don't come in contact with movie seats, other people's car seats and plane seats.

Tips to fight lice

  • Tell your children never to share any hair items.

  • Watch for scratching.

  • Check all family members for lice and nits once a week.

  • Don't confuse nits with dandruff or dirt.

  • Consult your pharmacist or health care provider before using lice treatments.

  • Use any product correctly and with caution.

  • Remove nits with a half-vinegar, half-alcohol mixture and a fine-tooth comb or fingernails. Commercial nit-removal creams are available.

  • Wash bedding and recently worn clothing in hot water and dry it in a dryer for at least 20 minutes on the hot setting. Seal items that cannot be washed in plastic bags for two weeks.

  • Avoid lice sprays. Keep your home vacuumed.

  • Notify your child's school, camp, care provider and friends that your child has lice.