How many parents have received that dreaded letter or email: “Your child was found to have head lice….” The very thought of the creepy crawlers on your child’s head may give you shivers, but lice is an age-old problem and they can set up camp in anyone’s hair.

September is National Head Lice Prevention Month, spearheaded by the National Pediculosis Association. Pediculosis is the medical term for head lice. This year’s message is “CombFirst!” The organization believes that the comb is mightier than the medicated shampoo in helping reduce the spread.

It’s not possible to get accurate numbers of people who get lice, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 6 million and 12 million children aged 3 years to 11 years catch them. Black children are less likely to have lice.

Lice myths

There are several myths surrounding lice. Here are a few:

Lice can jump from person to person.

Lice can’t jump, nor can they fly. They are transferred from one head to another by crawling if there’s close head-to-head contact, or if they latch on to an item that will be shared, like a comb or hat. This is why children should be discouraged from sharing these personal items.

Lice spread infections or disease.

Aside from causing itching and the creep factor, lice are harmless. They don’t carry or spread diseases.

Lice are a sign of poor hygiene.

Lice want to get to the blood they can access on the scalp. They don’t care if your hair is dirty or clean.

The only way to get rid of lice is with a medicated shampoo.

For decades, parents have relied on medicated shampoos to clear their children’s hair of lice. However, head lice are starting to become immune to some of the shampoos, making it harder to get rid of them. Also, some people can’t tolerate having these products on their head, so other options are needed. Although time consuming, wet combing with a nit comb does work. Wet the hair with conditioner or oil, and slowly move the comb along the hair section by section. You may need to do this a few days in a row to be sure you’ve gotten all the nits.

Lice hide in upholstered furniture and carpets.

Lice cannot live off a human head for more than 1 or 2 days at the most.

If you or your child has lice

So what do you do if you get that dreaded letter from the school or you notice the lice yourself? After scratching your own head – a natural reaction – take a deep breath and know that you’ve got this.

Decide on the treatment you’ll use, either the medicated shampoo or combing. If you use a medicated product, be sure to follow the instructions. This is not a time for “if some is good, more is better.” There are also hairdressers and others who specialize in lice care, if you’d like to hand the job off to someone else.

Check after treatment because some people need 2 or more treatments to successfully get rid of all the lice.

Wash items that came into contact with the person for the 2-day period before treatment. These items include hats, scarves, head bands, towels, linen and pillowcases. Hot water and the heat from a dryer will kill both the lice and nits (eggs). Items that can’t be thrown in the laundry can be decontaminated by sealing them in a plastic bag for 2 weeks. Combs and brushes can be soaked in hot water (at least 130 degrees) for 5 to 10 minutes.

To learn more about lice and how to prevent lice infestations and to deal with an outbreak, visit