Tuesday 18 September 2018

Head lice - How can I prevent my kids from getting infected now that school is back?

Head lice are very contagious - it's best to keep hair short
Head lice are very contagious - it's best to keep hair short

Nina Byrnes

Q Every September my kids get hair lice going back to school. I hate it. Is there anything I can do to prevent it happening this year? What would you recommend?

A. Head lice are very contagious among close contacts. Once lice arrive on a head, they settle close to the scalp. The most common areas to see them are behind the ears and the nape of the neck. Live louse and eggs can be hard to see because they tend to be very close to the scalp. If infestation has been there a while, the nits may be more easily seen, as they grow out along the hair shaft.

Many parents ask about preventing head lice infection. The best way to do this is keep hair short or, if long, ensure it is well tied up at all times. Applying a solution containing tea tree oil or lavender oil has been reported to reduce the chance of reinfection, but this is not a proven remedy.

Regular detection combing can help catch lice before they have a chance to cause a proper infestation. This is best done on wet hair but can be done on dry hair also. You should purchase a detection comb from the pharmacy. The teeth on these combs should be no more than 0.3mm apart in order to trap the lice. Apply a large amount of conditioner to the hair, then comb through with a normal brush or comb. When the hair is tangle-free, start combing through small sections from scalp to end and check the comb after each segment to look for louse or eggs. Rinse out the conditioner and repeat the combing on the hair again.

If you find lice, your child will require further treatment. For many years, chemical insecticides were used to kill lice and eggs. The lice are now resistant to many of these and so malathion is currently the only one still considered helpful, although there has been some resistance to this also. Malathion ( Derbac) is a lotion applied to the hair in the evening, left in overnight and then washed off the next day. The treatment is repeated a week later. Malathion is flammable so you should not dry the hair when using it. It is a chemical and can cause some irritation of the scalp in some people.

More recently, non-chemical methods are becoming more popular - these include dimethicone and cyclomethicone treatments (Hedrin and Full marks solution). These work by suffocating the louse and loosening the eggs, so resistance is less likely. These solutions are applied to the hair and left for minutes to hours. Hair is then fine-combed and washed.

Other home remedies that have been suggested include applying olive oil or mayonnaise (the full fat variety) and leaving it on overnight. These are reported to also suffocate the louse but their efficacy is not proven. With any of the above methods, treatment should be repeated at seven days and for resistant cases again at 13 or 14 days.

Lice can only live for about two days off the human head and cannot pass from or to pets, so although I do advise washing sheets, hairbrushes and so on, extreme cleaning methods are not necessary.

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