It's difficult to prevent the spread of head lice among children in child care and school settings. There's so much close contact among children and their belongings that lice can spread easily. It's no reflection on your hygiene habits or those of your children, and it's not a failure on your part as a parent if your child gets head lice.

Some over-the-counter products claim to repel lice, but more scientific research is needed to prove their safety and effectiveness.

A number of small studies have shown that ingredients in some of these products — mostly plant oils such as rosemary, citronella, eucalyptus, tea tree and lemon grass — may work to repel lice. However, these products are classified as "natural" so they aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and their safety and effectiveness haven't been tested to FDA standards.

Until more research proves the effectiveness of head lice prevention products, the best approach is simply to take thorough steps to get rid of the lice — and their eggs — so that you don't have more lice to deal with.

  • Ask your child to avoid head-to-head contact with classmates during play and other activities.
  • Instruct your child not to share personal belongings such as hats, scarves, coats, combs, brushes, hair accessories and headphones.
  • Instruct your child to avoid shared spaces where hats and clothing from more than one student are hung on a common hook or kept in a locker.

However, it's not realistic to expect that you and your child can eliminate all the types of contact that may result in the spread of lice.

Your child may have nits in his or her hair but not necessarily develop a case of head lice. Some nits are empty eggs. However, nits that are found within 1/4 inch (6.4 millimeters) of the scalp should be treated — even if you find only one — to prevent the possibility of hatching. Nits that are farther away from the scalp are probably from an old infestation and don't need to be treated.

May. 22, 2012

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