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Your kid has lice...now what?

How to rid your kids of these creepy crawlies

When she was 8-years-old, Jessica Uzzo visited the local library. It was here where her mother, Kristy, noticed that Jessica couldn't stop scratching her head. When Kristy looked closely at Jessica's scalp, she noticed something moving.

"Sure enough it was lice," says Uzzo, who lives in Fishkill. Lice. The mere word leaves most people scratching their heads.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), lice are parasitic insects that can be found on the head, eyebrows and eyelashes of people. Head lice feed on human blood several times a day and live close to the human scalp. There are three forms of lice - the egg or nit, the nymph and the adult.

"I don't think anyone likes the idea of lice in their hair crawling around and biting them," says Uzzo. "It was extremely traumatizing."

It also wasn't Jessica's only interaction with the bugs. About six months later, she found them again. She is one of an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations that occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age, according to the CDC.

READ MORE: More tips for dealing with lice!

"You get lice from direct contact, person-to-person," explains Eunice Hoolihan, MD, a family medicine physician with Health Quest. "Maybe the children lie down in the same bed or put their heads together. Lice don't jump or hop and cannot just fly from one person to another. If someone uses a hat, scarf or brush of someone that has lice or lies down in a bed with someone who has it and the lice are alive in the bed, they can get it."

Time to treat
Once you think that your child might have lice, Hoolihan says it's time to start examining all the children in the home. "Then get treatment right away," she says. "There is no reason not to go to school but get treatment so it doesn't spread to other kids. The treatment can be over-the-counter Permetrim 1% lotion (such as Nix) at first, but if that doesn't help, prescription treatment is available."

April Amlong actually wishes that parents would keep kids home if they have lice. "We got it more than once because of school outbreaks," says Amlong, an Accord-based mom. Her son Alex experienced his first lice outbreak when he was 7-years-old. "My first thought was that this was going to happen eventually. I know lice like clean hair, so I knew it wasn't because he was dirty, but it was still shameful."

Unfortunately, some lice are simply resistant to the treatments out there and are known as super lice. "After trying Permetrim, comb hair with olive or coconut oil," says Hoolihan. "Nit Pickers secret enzyme shampoo (which dehydrates the lice) and NYDA solutions are good alternatives."

Shaving a boy's head is another option but Hoolihan reminds parents that you still need to treat the children who may have lice, so they don't get re-infected. "Wash all the linens, clothes they wore, towels and hats with hot water and put them in a dryer with hot air. Vacuum the bed and wherever
anyone has lain down."

READ MORE: Should you keep your child home from school?

Once Jessica was in her second round of lice, Uzzo decided to color her daughter's hair. "It was such a lengthy process to get rid of them and she didn't want to have to repeat it. I dyed her hair matching her color. It worked so well at killing all of the lice in one shot. All I had to do was continue checking for lice and nits, but I didn't find any."

While no studies have shown that hair dye works on killing lice, it is possible that hair dye on a child's head could be harmful. Check with your pediatrician before trying this option.

There's no way around the fact that getting rid of lice is a time-consuming process. "I continued combing Jessica's hair and removing nits for weeks," says Uzzo. "I would comb it with a lice comb and use a paper towel to see if the lice were in the hair. Every day, for about three weeks, I spent hours checking through her hair and removing the nits to end the cycle. The key to ridding yourself of lice is to remove all the nits by hand. And that is how I learned where the saying 'nitpicker' came from. It's a tedious process!"

Leave it to the professionals
There are professional lice services available to help parents.

Amanda Schott's daughter got head lice when she was in the third grade. "I was a single mom of  4-year-old, 10-year-old and 12-year-old daughters back then and ultimately we all ended up with it," says Schott. "I didn't really know much about lice other than the stigma that went with it. I bought the over-the-counter kits and started combing and picking through their hair. They got cleared to go back to school, but a week later I was called and told they had lice again."

It took Schott time to realize that the problem was simple - she was able to comb her daughters' hair, but nobody was able to check hers. "I didn't want to ask anyone for help because they would know our secret, so I found a lice removal service, put my girls in the car and we drove there."  

Marissa Schmansky, co-owner of Buggheads in Wappingers, once sat for hours trying to remove nits from both of her daughters' hair. "I'm a hair dresser and it was difficult even for me to go through the process so I knew that other parents must need help. 

READ MORE: Does your child have a stomach bug or could it be something worse?

She started her business four years ago and advises parents to call a lice removal service as soon as you see the first bug. "The sooner you call the sooner nobody else gets infected," she insists. "It's going to get progressively worse."

The process includes a treatment and two follow-up visits. "They also get homework on cleaning and combing out at home too," says Schmansky, who uses an all-natural shampoo based on peachtree and coconut oil, which are oils that lice hate. "It loosens up the eggs and makes them more active, so I can find them more easily."

The removal process includes a combing that takes about an hour, depending on thickness of the hair and the severity of the case. Schmansky has seen extremely bad cases of lice. "Some people come to me with hundreds of bugs in their hair and I have to be careful not to get them on me," she says.

She mentions that families where the dads are single parents or children do not get adequate family attention typically have it worse.

"Right now the problem is everywhere and it's most important that the parents are aware of what's happening on their children's scalp," she insists.

Lisa Iannucci is a local freelance writer. Her latest book, On Location: A Film & TV Lover's
Travel Guide, was released on February 1, 2018.