Parents are often ashamed when their children are sent home from school because of a lice infestation. But the infestations are actually quite common and are not a sign of poor hygiene, according to the National Institutes of Health. Lice–small white insects that live in human hair–are highly contagious and can cause itching on the scalp, but they do not spread disease. The insects can live on a person for up to 30 days, and the eggs can live for two weeks. Proper treatment can be time-consuming, but it is vital to keep the infestation from spreading to others.
Insecticidal shampoos, lotions and creams containing 1 percent permethrin or pyrethrin are an effective over-the-counter treatment for head lice, according to the National Institutes of Health. The shampoos should applied to clean, dry hair and allowed to sit for 10 minutes before being rinsed off. Because the medicated shampoos will not kill lice eggs, the treatment should be repeated about one week after the first application.
If over-the-counter delousing products have proven unsuccessful, prescription products are also available. Both mathalion lotion and lindane shampoo have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat lice infestations. Malathion lotion works similarly to over-the-counter products to kill lice and some eggs. Because of a greater risk of side effects with lindane shampoo, it is only recommended for use when other products have failed.
After using a delousing shampoo, an infected person’s hair will need to be carefully combed to remove any surviving lice. Many drugstores sell special metal combs to use for delousing. Because insecticidal products are not safe for use in children younger than 2, hand removal by combing is the recommended treatment. It’s important to comb through the hair looking for lice every three to four days for about two weeks after the last louse was found.
In addition to medicinal treatments, it’s also important to clean your house following a lice infestation. Bedding and clothing used by the person who is infested should be washed in water that is at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit and then dried in a hot dryer, according to the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program. Some children’s toys, such as stuffed animals, will need to be washed, as will car seats. Items that cannot be washed should be dry-cleaned. Items such as hats, bike helmets and earphones can be placed in a freezer with a temperature of 5 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Thorough vacuuming is sufficient to remove any lice that have fallen from the head because lice do not generally survive long once they fall from the head.
Products such as mayonnaise, petroleum jelly and oils such as olive oil have been purported as home treatments for lice because they can suffocate the bugs, but none have been proven effective as a treatment.