So, you have lice. Or your kid does. Or, maybe it’s your kid’s friend and you scratch your head just thinking about it. What to do?
First, read this post on lice treatments and what happens if you decide to see a doctor for lice).
Then come back here to learn all the tips for keeping lice away.
Do you need to sanitize anything? What about those chemical furniture sprays to keep these tiny insects away ? Spoiler alert: Neither sanitizing nor purchased lice-killing furniture sprays are needed to treat head lice.
However, there are a few other steps families can take to keep lice from crawling back onto someone’s scalp after a treatment.
Lice facts that guide advice for preventing lice re-infestation
Before I review the advice for ridding a home of lice, it helps to remember a few simple facts:
- Lice cannot survive for more than a day or two away from a human head.
- Lice cannot jump.
- Their eggs can survive off a human head and hatch after about 7-12 days. However, their ideal temperature for hatching is the temperature close to the scalp.
- A female louse is born, reaches adulthood and lays eggs on a roughly 3 week cycle (if not treated with any medication).
- Head lice only thrive on human heads (not those of pets).
- Heat kills lice, specifically 5 minutes or more at temperatures greater than 130°F (think about a hot water cycle on a washing machine).
- Lice are not dangerous and cause no human illness. (This doesn’t mean lice infestations aren’t really stressful!)
So, with those simple facts in mind, here are a few steps to take after lice treatment such as a topical medication or another method. (Again, see the previous post for all those details).
Lice eradication at home
When we think of lice at home, we think of other people and objects that may be affected.
Household members of someone with lice
If someone at home has been found to have a live lice on their head, they should be treated. All household members of someone with lice should be checked for lice and treated if living lice are found (or eggs close to the scalp).
A child’s pediatrician can help guide a family if a child shares a bed with an affected person but has no lice themselves. In this case, some recommend treatment to that “unaffected” child.
Hoousehold objects of someone with lice
If the person affected by lice touched something with their head in the 2 days prior to treatment, those thing should be washed with hot water and dried on a hot dryer setting, if possible. These items may include: clothing, pillowcases, sheets, stuffed toys, scarves, etc.
For items that can’t be washed in hot water at home, dry cleaning is an option too.
If an item can’t be put in a washing machine or dry cleaned(like a bike helmet, for example) it can be placed in a sealed plastic bag for two weeks. (Any live lice will die and any lice that hatch from eggs on the helmet won’t survive long either). Remember, they need to be close to a human scalp to survive.
Carpets where an affected person may have rested their head can be vacuumed. The goal here is to vacuum up any hairs that may have attached lice eggs or nits.
Both the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against anti-lice furniture sprays as they are not necessary. (And, the fumes from these sprays can be dangerous).
Preventing further spread or re-infestation of head lice
Most lice is spread by direct head to head contact. It’s a tricky thing to control, but it’s worth encouraging children not to have their head touch another child’s head. (If you have tips on how to communicate this to young kids, please share! I had a patient tell me once, with a shrug, that their friends were just the hugging type. It’s hard to challenge things like this.
That being said, it is also possible for lice to spread when kids share things that touch their heads, like brushes, towels, hats, or pillows. This isn’t nearly as common as when their heads actually touch each other.
So, when possible, it’s best if kids try not to share such items with other children.
Preventing lice spread at school
The AAP discourages regular nit and lice screenings at schools. It just hasn’t shown to be worth the effort. That effort is often the result of already very occupied and busy school nurses. They found that the screenings didn’t have a huge effect overall. Energy is best focused on the kids already with lice and helping their families manage.
If a child has nits (eggs) alone and no live lice, they don’t need to be excluded from school. First, a few nits does not always lead to a full infestation of lice. And, it’s unlikely to cause any spread or infestation in another child. Importantly, policies that exclude children from school for nits are a great disservice to the children themselves.
Summary: Keeping lice away does not have to be an extensive process.
After a child is treated effectively for head lice, there’s a few steps to keep the lice away. Household contacts should be checked and treated if needed. And, anything the child may have touched with their head in the 2 days prior to treatment should be washed in hot water, dry cleaned, vacuumed, or placed in a sealed plastic bag for two weeks. As this entire process is carried out, they can still attend school.
Extensive sanitizing is not needed.
Maya Mahmood, D.O., F.A.A.P. is a board-certified pediatrician and mom. She is passionate about parents having evidence-based information to help their families be healthier.
This is for information only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. See the full disclaimer here.