Lice outbreak? A comb, shampoo, and some patience will do the trick

Head lice are by far the most common form of human lice. They can reside anywhere on the scalp, but commonly prefer the hairs on the back of the neck and around the ears, where it is warmest. (Photo: Freepik)
Children seem to have a knack for getting injured and contracting illnesses. Their awareness, motor coordination, and perception are still developing, leading to frequent tumbles and falls, and poor personal hygiene and very close contact with other children facilitate the spread of germs. Usually, the diagnosis is the common cold, a flu, a twisted joint, or a scratch, and after a few days, things go back to normal. However, one other condition that often spreads between children is especially difficult to treat and prevent, and takes more time to combat: lice, the tiny bugs that make their homes and grow their families in people’s hair. اضافة اعلان

Lice are considered parasites because they require a host in order to survive. They are small, wingless, blood-sucking insects that infest areas with hair. These parasites suck the blood from the scalp for nutrients, feeding roughly four to five times a day, and rapidly reproduce. The most prevalent area for lice infestations is the head — head lice in medical nomenclature are known as Pediculosis capitis.

From tiny egg to sesame seed
Adult lice are quite small, roughly the size of a sesame seed, making them incredibly difficult to spot. They range in color from white to brown or tan, so they usually blend in with the color of the scalp. A female adult louse will lay up to six eggs per day directly onto the shaft of a hair. The eggs are attached to the hair via a secretion which acts as glue, which can make the removal of the eggs extremely difficult. The eggs are roughly the size of a pinhead and are usually tan to grayish-white — they are more noticeable. In about a week, the eggs will hatch and the baby louse, known as a nymph, will undergo three growth spurts to reach adult size within another week. Lice are obligate parasites, which means that they cannot survive without a human host. Furthermore, the species that infests humans is specific to humans; they cannot be spread by animals.

All kinds of lice
As previously mentioned, head lice are by far the most common form of human lice. They can reside anywhere on the scalp, but commonly prefer the hairs on the back of the neck and around the ears, where it is warmest. There are only two ways that head lice are transmitted from person to person. The first is direct head-to-head contact such as during hugging. The second means of transmission is through sharing items that have a high chance of infestation. This includes hats, hair ties, or combs and brushes.

Another form of lice is known as body lice, or medically, Pediculosis corporis. They are similar to head lice in many regards but differ in certain ways. The most important distinction is that body lice reside and lay their eggs on clothing, and only go to the skin to feed. Unfortunately, this type of lice is also capable of carrying a number of diseases such as louse-borne typhus, relapsing fever, and trench fever. Fortunately, body lice can be treated and prevented much more easily than other types — by washing clothes.

The last type of human lice, pubic lice or Pediculosis pubis, are commonly referred to as crabs since they look like crabs under a microscope. They are the smallest type of lice and reside on the hair in the pubic area. They are transmitted via direct contact during sexual activity.

How to tell if you have lice
It is first important to note that preschool and elementary school children are at the highest risk of getting head lice. This is due to the fact that children tend to play closely with one another. As a result, families with school-aged children as well as those who work in close proximity with children are also at a higher risk. Lice are easily transmitted and can be spread if precautions are not taken. This means that anyone can get lice, regardless of risk factor.

Lice are not associated with poor personal hygiene. It is a common misconception that those who skip showering or other hygiene-related steps are at a greater risk of lice. In fact, lice prefer clean hair, as it makes it easier for them to lay their eggs.

Regardless of the type of lice infestation, the symptoms are generally the same. The main symptom is itchiness, which is caused by the bites from lice. Additionally, you may have the sensation that something is crawling around the infected area. Lastly, sores and scabs are also common as a result of both bites and scratching.

Lice in Jordan
Data on lice in Jordan is quite limited and varying. One study found that 13.4 percent of Jordanian elementary school-aged children were infested with head lice, while a later study found that 26.6 percent were infested. Although the two studies varied on school-aged prevalence of head lice, one finding was consistent: girls were significantly more likely to be infested with head lice than boys. This is likely due to a difference in playing patterns, and the fact that girls are more likely to touch each other’s hair.

In Jordan, unfortunately, studies have shown that parents have limited knowledge about head lice. The vast majority of Jordanian parents whose children had head lice reported feeling ashamed after learning their child was infested, and most said they felt too embarrassed to seek help from a healthcare provider. A study also showed that the most common home remedy was applying kerosene to the scalp, at 61 percent — an unadvisable treatment option. However, the government does implement an awareness campaign on the treatment and prevention of head lice.

Treatment and prevention
There are many ways to treat a lice infestation, all of them revolving around killing the lice and eggs as well as treating contaminated areas and clothing. The US CDC does not recommend any natural or alternative products. Similarly, home remedies are generally not effective. Kerosene and other flammable liquids should never be used on the scalp. Mayonnaise is another common home remedy and, although it may suffocate adult lice, it does not remove the eggs.

The most effective treatment is medical shampoo that kills the lice. Additionally, there are special combs that can carefully remove the eggs from the hair shaft. It is also important to clean the home or any other area where hairs might have fallen. Clothing and bedding should be machine washed in hot water. There is no product or method that can completely ensure that lice will not spread; the best means of prevention is to avoid head-to-head contact, and not to share personal items.

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