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FOR RELEASE: November 21, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Safely Avoid Head Lice Through Prevention & Treatment

Myths about homemade remedies for treating head lice are not only ineffective but often dangerous to the safety and health of adults and children who are trying to rid themselves of these common pests. Officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health say that public health education about head lice, and how to treat it, are the most effective ways to prevent an infestation of head lice.

Head lice are bloodsucking insects that live on the head and scalp and contrary to popular belief, they are found only on humans and not on dogs, cats or pets. The first sign of head lice is usually itching of the head and scalp, especially the back of the head and around the ears. It may take weeks to notice the itching but nits can be seen before the itching starts. Nits look like white or dark ovals and are mainly noticeable on the back of the neck and around the ears close to the scalp.

Head lice are spread through direct or indirect contact with infested objects and people. Sharing combs, brushes, hats and other personal clothing worn on the head can transport lice from one head to another.

For the safe prevention and treatment of head lice try the following:

  • Teach children not to share clothing, hats, brushes or combs with other children.
  • Teach children to hang coats and other personal belongings so they don't touch the coats or personal belongings of other students.
  • Make head checks a part of your health routine. Examine the hair and scalp of everyone in the household at the same time so everyone can be treated at the same time.
  • Use products called “pediculicides.” These products contain chemicals that kill lice. Use a head louse shampoo but don't depend on it to do a complete kill. Do NOT use kerosene, gasoline, insecticides, poisons or pet shampoos to kill lice.
  • Do NOT use products such as vegetable oil or mayonnaise that may coat any egg sacs because re-infestation will occur.
  • All lice eggs must be removed. Use a lice comb with very fine teeth to remove nits and adult lice.
  • Soak all combs and brushes in hot water for at least 10 minutes. Inspect for eggs (nits) and rinse thoroughly before using again.
  • The home environment, such as bedding, clothing, sports gear, sleeping bags, etc., must be treated at the same time also. Machine-wash all clothing, linens and personal items in very hot water then dry them in a hot dryer for at least 20 minutes. Dry clean items that cannot be washed, or seal them in a tightly closed bag. Do not open the bag for 14 days; then take it outside, open and shake items vigorously to remove dead lice and eggs. Disinfect bike or sports helmets by vacuuming.
  • Thoroughly vacuum everything, including carpets, mattresses, household and auto upholstery and change the bag outside. Seal and dispose used bags in outdoor trash containers.

Schools, childcare homes and day care centers may check with their local county health department for additional specific information about head lice. More information is also available by visiting the Oklahoma State Department of Health Web site at www.health.state.ok.us.


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