Any parent with a young child in preschool or elementary school has to worry about head lice infestations. Because elementary school children are in a group setting all day, it is very easy for lice to spread from one person to the next. As common and frustrating as these infestations may be, treating head lice in the home can be performed with simple household products.
Head lice are parasites that attach themselves to the human head, neck, eyelashes and eyebrows and feed on minute amounts of human blood. Lice go through a basic life cycle. Female lice lay their eggs, also known as nits; the egg hatches into a nymph eight to nine days later, which then becomes a full grown louse in nine to twelve days. The female lice lay up to six eggs a day and do so at the base of the hair follicles, no more than a quarter inch up the hair shaft. Lice survive on human blood and will die in 24 to 48 hours if no longer able to feed.
Head lice are hard to see, so parents should play close attention for the following symptoms: a feeling of movement on the head, itching, scratching of the scalp and sores resulting from excessive scratching. An examination of the scalp may reveal something that looks like dandruff, but in children with darker hair lice are actually harder to spot.
Although lice prefer to remain on a human head for feeding purposes, they will inevitably end up on brushes, combs, sheets, bedding, carpets and car upholstery. Consequently, as important as it is to treat the child, it is also vital to treat the home to contain spreading and re-contamination.
Bleach is actually not necessary for killing head lice. Because lice are so dependent on humans, once they are removed from the host they are easy to kill. Soak brushes and combs in rubbing alcohol for at least and hour or simply dispose of them in the trash. Sheets should be washed on the hottest cycle and then dried fully on the highest heat setting in the dryer for at least twenty minutes. For pillows, blankets and comforters, a hot spin in the dryer for at least thirty minutes will kill the lice. If there is bedding that cannot withstand the heat, place it in a sealed plastic bag for at least two weeks. Although nymphs and adult head lice cannot survive without a human host for more than 48 hours, there may still be eggs waiting to hatch. Finally, carpets, upholstered furniture and car upholstery should all be thoroughly vacuumed.
Head lice infestations can be rampant and difficult to get under control. Teach young children to avoid touching heads with other children at school. They should also avoid sharing brushes, hats and clothes. Although lice cannot jump or fly, they are great clingers and can move easily from one person to the next using their claws.