If you have ever dealt with an infestation, you know how difficult and frustrating the little bugs can be. Prevention is always the best course of action; but if you suddenly find yourself in a lousy situation, the treatment options are relatively simple.
Types of lice
Lice are parasitic insects that survive by feeding on blood. They move by crawling and cannot hop or fly — thank goodness.
Lice can be found on people's heads or bodies; the type of lice you have depends on where it’s found on your body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the following three types of human lice:
Pediculus humanus capitis (head louse): Adult head lice are roughly 2 to 3 millimeters long. They infest the head and neck, attaching their eggs to the base of the hair shaft. Pediculus humanus corporis (body louse, clothes louse): Adult body lice are 2.3 to 3.6 millimeters in length. They live and lay eggs on clothing, only moving to the skin to feed. This type of lice is known to spread disease. Pthirus pubis ("crab" louse, pubic louse): Adult pubic lice are 1.1 to 1.8 millimeters in length. They are most commonly found attached to hair in the pubic area but can be found in other coarse body hair (i.e. eyebrows, beard, armpits).
Human lice are most commonly spread by person-to-person contact. Dogs, cats and other pets do not play a role in the transmission of human lice.
“Treatment for head lice is recommended for persons diagnosed with an active infestation,” the CDC says. “All infested persons (household members and close contacts) and their bedmates should be treated at the same time.”
Thorough treatment will require using an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication. MedicineNet.com authors Dr. David Perlstein and Dr. William Shiel Jr. suggest the following guidelines:
OTC medications are very effective; do not make up your own recipe to treat lice.Apply lice medicine according to the instructions contained in the box or printed on the label. If the infested person has long hair — as in longer than shoulder length — it may need to be cut off.Have the infested person put on clean clothing after every treatment.If no dead lice are found after eight to 12 hours, and lice seem as active as before, the medicine may not be working. Try another brand or formula of medication for treatment.Nit combs, often found in lice medicine packages, should be used to comb nits and lice from the hair shaft, sometimes several times a day.Re-treatment is meant to kill any surviving hatched lice before they produce new eggs. For some drugs, re-treatment is recommended routinely about a week after the first treatment.Applying thick facial wash or baby oil to your hair, and leaving it on for 30 minutes twice a day, will help in between lice shampoo medication. This works to suffocate lice and speed up the process of removing lice.
If you have any other health issues and contract body lice, seek a medical professional as soon as possible. Some medications or diseases complicate treatment.
Head lice will not survive long if they fall off a person and cannot feed, the MedicineNet.com doctors say, so you don't need to spend a lot of time or money on housecleaning activities. Here are some general house cleaning guidelines:
Machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens and other items used by the infected person by using hot water (130°F) and high heat drying cycle. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag and stored for a minimum of two weeks.Soak hair care items in hot water (130 degrees) for 10 minutes.Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the infested person sat or lay. But keep in mind, the risk of getting infested by a louse that has fallen onto a rug or carpet or furniture is very small.Do not use fumigant sprays; they can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
Of course, your best option is to prevent a lice infestation all together. The Healthline.com editorial team suggests the following prevention measures:
Don’t share, or let your children share, items that touch the head. This includes combs and brushes, hair clips, hats, helmets, scarves, coats, towels, headsets and ear buds. Ask your children to avoid games that involve head-to-head contact. Keep belongings — especially hats, coats, etc. — out of common areas. “Closets, lockers, drawers and common clothes hooks can create an easy opportunity for lice to pass from one person’s things to another’s,” the writers say. In the end, it’s important to remember that having lice is not always a sign that a person is living in very dirty situations. We all need to be aware of and treat lice infestations as soon as we know about them.