By Steven Penn
The fall and winter seasons can present a multitude of health problems for families, including one that is sometimes overlooked: Head lice.
Dr. Chris Belcher, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Peyton
Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, said there are a lot of misconceptions about head lice.
“Head lice is a common problem for families ... (it causes) a lot of emotions and drama, but it’s kind of a normal occurrence for children,” he said.
Belcher said one misconception is that it only happens to people who aren’t clean.
“Lice are equal opportunity parasites,” he said. “They do not just occur to dirty people and they prefer a healthy, clean host. They do not fly or jump — they spread between people in close contact and those who share items.”
Belcher said the fall and winter months are typically when they see an uptick in head lice, mainly due to the sharing of hats and other cold weather items.
Because lice spread by direct contact, Belcher said it’s important for parents to teach their children about personal space and to not share clothing items.
He said lice are most common in elementary school aged children, but it has become more prevalent in preschool children as well.
As for the diagnosis, Belcher said it’s important to talk to a specialist, like himself, to ensure a proper diagnosis is made.
“The diagnosis of lice is made by finding an adult louse alive in the scalp,” he said. “They are sesame seed sized insects. Nits, the eggs of the lice are found attached to the hair. They are always attached to the side of the hair. If the hair runs through something — it is not a nit. Things commonly confused with nits are dandruff, hairspray, and dirt or fibers.”
Belcher said the treatment options have expanded over the years.
“While traditional over-the-counter treatments are available such as Nix or Rid, repeated applications, the need for combing out nits, and resistance of lice to these medications has led to the development of new agents,” he said. “The most recent of these is
Sklice-ivermectin topical lotion which allows a single treatment without the need to comb out nits.”
Belcher said the main thing for families to remember is to not overreact because lice problems are a common occurrence.