What We're Seeing Now: Getting Bugged by Head Lice
Welcome to “What We’re Seeing Now,” a weekly rundown of which sicknesses UHS clinicians are seeing on campus. We’ll tell you what germs are popping up to take you down and what you can do to prevent yourself from getting sick.
Having flashbacks of elementary school? Well, head lice aren’t only confined to children. They are fairly common in any areas where there are close-contact situations (such as dorms). These hitchhikers aren’t picky about who they cling on to and it’s important to remember that having head lice is not a reflection of cleanliness nor does it mean a person has poor hygiene.
The low down: Head lice are tiny insects that live and are found almost exclusively on the scalp, particularly around and behind the ears and near the neckline at the back of the head, but can also be found in eyebrows and eyelashes.
We know you might be a little freaked out, but they aren’t dangerous or poisonous and are usually killed with proper medical treatment at home.
You can get head lice if you:
- Come in to close contact with a person who has lice
- Touch the clothing or bedding of someone who has lice
- Share hats, towels, brushes, or combs of someone who has had lice
On that note, the best prevention is to never share hair brushes, combs, or hair pieces in general.
Symptoms of head lice may include:
- Tickling feeling in the hair
- Intense itching of the scalp
- Small, red bumps on the scalp, neck, and shoulders (bumps may become crusty and ooze)
- Tiny white specks (eggs, or nits) on the bottom of each hair that are hard to get off
How can you check for head lice?
Head lice can be hard to see. If you experience symptoms, have a friend or roommate wear a pair of disposable gloves and check your head under a bright light. They should part the hair all the way down to the scalp in very small sections, looking both for moving lice and eggs (nits). Look closely around the top of the neck and ears, the most common locations for eggs.
Treatment is recommended if even one egg is found.
Treat those buggers:
- If lice are seen, you can treat the problem at home. Lotions and shampoos containing 1% permethrin (Nix) often work well. They can be bought at the store without a prescription.
- To use the medicine shampoo, first rinse and dry the hair.
- Then apply the medicine to the hair and scalp.
- After 10 minutes, rinse it off.
2. An important part of treatment is removing the eggs (nits). You can remove the eggs with a nit comb. Before doing this, rub olive oil in the hair or run the metal comb through beeswax. This helps make the nits easier to remove.
- Metal combs with very fine teeth are stronger and more effective than plastic nit combs.
- Removing eggs may prevent the lice from returning if the medication fails to kill every one of them.
- Wash all clothes and bed linens in hot water with detergent. This also helps prevent head lice from spreading to others during the short period when head lice can survive off the human body.
- Repeat combing for nits in 7 - 10 days.
When to seek medical treatment:
Call your health care provider or UHS at 608-265-5600 if symptoms continue after home treatment, or if the itching causes your scalp to bleed.