Parasitic insects that live on hair.
Infestation with head lice, also called pediculosis, is a common occurence in schools and day care centers. Head lice are parasitic insects that live on hair. The adults feed on blood from the scalp, causing intense itching, and lay their eggs (nits) on the hair shaft. Lice do not fly or hop like fleas, but they are quite easily passed from child to child. Playmates can pass them along through close physical contact, sharing hats or hair brushes, or lying on bedding or furniture on which lice-infested hair has fallen. If a few children in a school group have head lice, an epidemic may quickly build. Treatment is not difficult, but it may be drawn out if not all the nits are caught, or if the child is reinfested.
Symptoms of head lice include intense itching of the scalp, but some children may have the lice and not itch. If a child's playmates have head lice, it is best to check the child's hair immediately. The adult lice can be seen crawling through the hair. They may appear clear or whitish, or if engorged with blood, they may be dark brown. The nits look like tiny clear globs, and may be found anywhere along the hair shaft, but are more common on the hair at the top of the head, at the nape of the neck, and above the ears.
To treat a child for head lice, the adult insects must be killed with an insecticide shampoo and the nits removed with a special fine-toothed comb. Insecticide shampoo is available over the counter, or by prescription. The main ingredient in most lice shampoos, gamma benzene hexachloride, is a central nervous system toxin, so the shampoo must be used with care. Consult a doctor before treating a young child for head lice. After shampooing, comb through the child's hair with a fine-toothed comb (usually included with the shampoo package), and inspect the child's hair under a bright light or in strong sunlight to make sure all the nits are combed out. At the same time the child is treated, the child's bedding and clothing should be washed in hot water with regular detergent. Combs and hairbrushes can be treated simply by soaking in very hot water for 10 minutes.
A second shampoo treatment may still be necessary in seven to ten days if any nits survived. The child may also become reinfested from other children. Parents will need to inspect the child's head regularly if head lice are still a problem at the child's school or day care.
Copeland, Lennie. The Lice-Buster Book: What To Do When Your Child Comes Home With Head Lice! Mill Valley, CA: Authentic Pictures, 1995.