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Books, bags, and bugs: lice alert!

The pencils are packed and your kids are ready to head back to school. While they study up on social studies and math, you may want to do some studying, too – on head lice. Below we'll break down what exactly head lice is, ways to prevent it, and how you can get rid of lice if your child comes home with it.

Students in class smiling

What are head lice?

Head lice are tiny insects that infest human hair and feed off of the scalp. They are incredibly small, measuring roughly 2-3mm long. Contrary to popular belief, lice are not a sign of poor hygiene. Your child – and any child – can pick up head lice through close head-to-head contact with another or by sharing personal items such as hats, coats, brushes, combs, hoodies, and more.

Lice can also spread in areas where children’s belongings are in close contact, such as in coat rooms or cubbies. However, the risk of contracting lice from another child's belonging is small as lice can only survive one to two days off of a human.

Close up of lice in hair.

Tips to prevent head lice

To help alleviate lice concerns, it's important to teach your child not to share personal items used on or worn near the head.  Follow the tips below to help your child avoid lice during school, sports activities, the playground, etc.

  • Avoid head-to-head contact during play and other activities.

  • Do not share combs or brushes.

  • Do not share hats, jackets, scarves, hair ties, headbands, or any type of clothing that the lice could attach to.

  • Do not touch any soft surfaces that have recently been used by someone with lice such as bedding, pillows, and stuffed animals.

Two girls having their heads close to each other

How to get rid of head lice

If your child begins scratching his or her head frequently, inspect for lice. Use a bright light and part the hair at several places and look for live lice – about the size of a sesame seed and grayish-white to tan in color – or eggs, called nits. Nits will be tiny yellow dots attached to the hair shaft close to the scalp.

Close up of  a woman examining girls hair.

Below are a few tips for how to get rid of lice, however you should always consult your family physician for the best treatment for your child.

  • Purchase and apply an approved lice treatment, according to the instructions on the box or label. Some lice have become resistant to traditional over-the-counter treatments.

  • Use a special nit comb to remove lice and nits from the hair shaft.

  • Especially for those with long hair or heavy lice activity, it may be necessary to repeat treatment.

  • Check other family members that have come in contact with your child for lice.

  • Using hot water, machine wash any clothing, sheets, pillowcases, towels, and even stuffed animals your child has used in the last 2 – 3 days. It’s very important to dry these items on high heat to kill any lice or eggs.

  • Vacuum furniture and floor areas where your child has been. Lice can’t survive long without a human, but vacuuming can help prevent another family member from developing a problem.

If your child does contract lice, Western Exterminator recommends these best practices from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

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