How to Prevent Childhood Infections

Preventing Head Lice

Anyone can be infested by head lice, but children between 3 and 12 are the most common targets.

The head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) is a tiny wingless parasitic insect that lives among human hairs and feeds on small amounts of blood drawn from the scalp.

Head Lice Information

Lice lay their eggs (called nits) close to the scalp on individual hair shafts. When the nits hatch, they release nymphs, which resemble adult lice but are smaller. Nymphs are white and look a bit like dandruff, but they can't be removed by brushing the hair. Once the lice are fully grown adults, they become brown or yellow and are more difficult to spot. Lice bites can itch and might cause small red sores that can lead to bacterial infections. Some people who are infected with lice may have swollen lymph glands.

Lice spread easily and quickly among children, especially when kids are in group settings, such as playgrounds, camps, child-care facilities, and slumber parties. Medicated lice shampoos, which kill the insects and their eggs, are recommended for everyone older than 2 years of age with head lice.

If you're caring for a child younger than 2, you will need to remove the nits by hand. Some medicated shampoos are not recommended for breast-feeding mothers or for people who weigh less than 110 pounds, so be sure to get your physician's advice before starting a regimen. No matter how you get rid of the insects, it may take a few days for the itching to stop.

Who's at Risk for Head Lice?

Although anyone can be infected with head lice, children between the ages of 3 and 12 are most at risk. According to findings published in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care, girls are more affected than boys because they are more likely to have close head contact and share hair accessories. Because of their hair type, African-Americans are rarely affected by head lice.

Defensive Measures Against Head Lice

At best, lice don't seem to spread disease; at worst, they are contagious and cause uncomfortable itching. Lice can survive up to 72 hours when away from their food source (your scalp), so you need to kill the ones that haven't made their way into someone's hair. If lice have infested someone in your family, wash all bed linens, towels, and clothing in very hot water and dry them on high heat for at least 20 minutes. Store everything else -- pillows, stuffed toys, and similar unwashable items -- in airtight bags for two weeks to suffocate and destroy the lice.

After using a medicated shampoo, you can do the following to help prevent a reinfestation:

  • For two weeks after treatment, literally go through hair with a fine-tooth comb after shampooing. Lice are immobilized and easier to spot and remove when hair is wet.
  • Gather all hair accessories, brushes, and combs and wash them in hot water, soak them in medicated shampoo or rubbing alcohol, or just get rid of them.
  • Vacuum all your furniture, carpets, and vehicles. When you are finished, remove the vacuum bag and place it in an airtight container or bag to dispose of it.
  • Keep personal care items personal. Remind your children not to share hats, scarves, helmets, combs, brushes, and other items.
  • Avoid bedding, pillows, and carpets if someone who has lice has been on them.

Pinworms, although common and uncomfortable, are easily treated. Keep reading to learn about this roundworm infestation.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.