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Debunking Head Lice Myths (Lice)
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Debunking Head Lice Myths

C. H. Hong, MD, FRCPC

Head lice is very common in schools, and if your children are between the ages of 3 and 11, they are especially at high risk. It is estimated that 1 in 10 children will be infected by head lice this year, and can be transmitted easily and quickly. Lice are small wingless bugs that feed from dead skin on the scalp, and can become epidemic, moving from host to host via direct contact or through shared articles of clothing.

The main symptom of lice is a constant itching. Lice are very small, and without close examination, it will be difficult to identify the existence of lice. It can take 4 to 6 week after the lice has found its host for itching to start, making routine hair checks very important in early detection, and in slowing the spread of lice. Special attention should be paid to the scalp, neck, and the back of the ears, as these are where lice are generally first found.

Lice has been stigmatized, and misunderstood, even though they are common among children. Below are some myths about lice.

Head lice prefer dirty hair

--Lice do not care about cleanliness of hair. Hygiene or socioeconomics have nothing to do with lice

Lice jump or fly from head to head

--Lice are singles bugs, and do not jump. Air movements can make it appear as if lice are jumping. They are transmitted through direct contact

Lice will eventually go away

--Lice can be an epidemic, spreading quickly in a heavily populated environment like a school. They will not go away without proper treatment, and immediate treatment to prevent spreading is required

All children with lice itch and scratch

--Symptoms can take up to 6 weeks to manifest. One can carry lice without itching for a long time, making it especially troublesome to identify properly

Lice live in beds and carpets, waiting for a host

--Lice cannot live for more than 24 hours out of contact with their host

If lice is found in a family member, everyone in the family should be treated for lice

--While family members should be checked on a regular basis for lice, only the person infested with lice should be treated

One treatment is enough to kill all lice

--Two treatments are recommended to kill off newly hatched nits which may have survived the initial treatment

Permethrin products will kill all nits

--Permethrin kills 70% of the eggs with a single treatment

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