As children prepare to celebrate the arrival of fall with trick-or-treating activities, parents may need to keep an eye out for a different type of creepy crawly – head lice . The parasitic insect that feeds on human blood by attaching to hair close to the scalp can hide out in costumes and accessories that are popular this time of year.
Head lice is most common among preschool and elementary school children. It causes an estimated 6 to 12 million infestations each year in the U.S. among children ages 3 to 11 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most of these cases of lice are seen in daycare and school settings. And while they may be annoying and can spread quickly, head lice are not known to transmit any disease and, therefore, are not considered a health hazard, the CDC says.
Head Lice Symptoms
The most common symptom of head lice is itching. The itching can be severe, especially at night. Lice or their eggs, called nits, can usually be seen on the hair, behind the ears or on the neck. They can sometimes even be seen in the eyebrows and eyelashes.
Head lice are very contagious. They spread from person to person by close body contact, and by shared clothes and other personal items. Hats, hairbrushes and combs are among the most common items that can spread head lice.
Treatment for Head Lice
While getting rid of head lice can be sometimes tricky, the good news is that head lice is treatable.
Treatment includes applying a medicated cream rinse or shampoo to the child’s hair. Many of these cream rinses or shampoos are available over-the-counter. Sometimes, when the case of head lice is serious and does not respond to over-the-counter treatment, a doctor may prescribe a medication.
Most children can return to school a day after being treated for head lice.
Head Lice Prevention
To help prevent and control the spread of head lice, the CDC offers these tips:
- Avoid head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact during play and other activities at home, school and elsewhere, such as at sporting activities, the playground and at slumber parties.
- Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons or barrettes.
- Do not share combs, brushes or towels. Disinfect combs and brushes used by an infested person by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5–10 minutes.
- Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with an infested person.
And if a child plans to wear a used costume that includes head gear this Halloween, be sure to wash it in hot water first.