An estimated 6 to 12 million cases of head lice are diagnosed in the United States each year, especially in elementary-age children. Luckily these tiny parasites are more of a nuisance than a serious health threat.
Lice are wingless insects that cause an itchy scalp infestation that's easily spread through close contact or by sharing personal belongings like brushes, hair ties or hats. Small eggs called nits attach to hair shafts and hatch resulting in more lice.
Although they can be difficult to get rid of, lice are not an indication that a person is sick or dirty. In fact, lice prefer a clean, healthy scalp. They can't jump or fly from one person to another, and can't be brushed off like dandruff.
Symptoms include a tickling feeling of something moving in the hair, itching or head caused by scratching and irritation. To check for lice, section off pieces of hair and look near the nape of the neck or above the ears, close to the scalp.
Most cases of lice can be treated with over-the-counter medication and shampoo.
However, once one person in a household is diagnosed, everyone should be treated. You should vacuum, dry clean or wash bedding, carpets, dolls, clothes, curtains and other items to kill any lingering pests.
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