|University of Kentucky Entomology|
MANAGEMENT OF HEAD LICE
by Mike Potter, Extension Entomologist
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture
Most people associate winter with the end of their insect problems. In the case of head lice, nothing could be farther from the truth. It is incorrect to associate head lice with the stigma of poverty and poor personal hygiene. In fact, it's estimated that ten percent of elementary school children are treated for head lice each year.
Diagnosing the Problem
Head lice are bloodsucking insects that live exclusively on humans. They usually infest only the head, preferring the nape of the neck and the area behind the ears. Head lice are especially common on schoolchildren between the ages of three and ten. Schools bring large numbers of children together in close, personal contact. Hats and coats are often shared or hung together in the same closet, permitting transfer of lice from one child to another. Transfer of head lice can also occur by using infested combs and brushes, or resting one's head on upholstered furniture or pillows recently used by an infested person.
People should be aware that there are many other factors (or other lice) that may cause itching and irritation during the winter. Dry air alone can cause irritation, producing a condition known as "winter itch". As skin loses moisture, itching results. A skin moisturizer or home humidifier is often helpful in these situations. See ENT-58 Invisible Itches: Insect and Non-Insect Causes (To view this publication requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader plug-in which can be downloaded from the Adobe site.).
Elimination and Prevention
There are four key steps to eliminating head lice and preventing their return:
Elimination of a head lice outbreak in a school, nursing home or similar shared facility requires prompt, coordinated action and administrative support to prevent the spread of lice to uninfected individuals. Unless all affected persons are treated, the condition will continue.
Managing Persistent Head Lice Infestations
Despite all the above efforts, there are times when a head lice infestation seems to persist indefinitely. Persistent infestation may be due to various causes, one of the most likely being improper use of the pediculicide (e.g. insufficient time shampoo left on the hair, or failure to reapply after 7 to 10 days). Other times, not enough time was spent combing out the nits or no effort was made to concurrently treat other infested family members.
In rare, but increasing instances, the product in use may have lost its effectiveness. Head lice resistance to pediculicides has been documented recently in certain areas of the world, especially to permethrin. Resistance to pyrethrin/piperonyl butoxide formulations appears to be less common. if resistance is suspected to the pediculicide you have been using, consult with your physician.
CAUTION! Pesticide recommendations in this publication are registered for use in Kentucky, USA ONLY! The use of some products may not be legal in your state or country. Please check with your local county agent or regulatory official before using any pesticide mentioned in this publication.
Of course, ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS FOR SAFE USE OF ANY PESTICIDE!
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