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How to Help Prevent and Control the Spread of Head Lice

Head lice are spread most commonly by direct head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact. However, much less frequently they are spread by sharing clothing or belongings onto which lice have crawled or nits attached to shed hairs may have fallen. The risk of getting infested by a louse that has fallen onto a carpet or furniture is very small. Head lice survive less than 1–2 days if they fall off a person and cannot feed; nits cannot hatch and usually die within a week if they are not kept at the same temperature as that found close to the scalp.

Take the Following Steps To Prevent and Control the Spread of Head Lice:

1.       Avoid head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact.

  • Kids will be kids, but tell them to avoid head-to-head contact while playing with other children, whether at school, on a playground, or during sports activities. Since head lice also can't fly, hop, or jump, they'll pass on to your children only through direct contact.

2.       Say "no" to sleepovers until 48 hours after treatment and no living lice visualized

  • If there's a head lice outbreak in your child's school, put sleepover parties on hold for a while, since head lice can live in bedding, pillows, and carpets that have recently been used by someone with head lice.

3.       Don't share what's on your hair.

  • Tell kids not to share combs, brushes, hats, scarves, bandanas, hair bands, ribbons, barrettes, or towels — basically, anything that goes on kids' heads.
  • Disinfest combs and brushes used by an infested person by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5–10 minutes .

4.       Think wisely when it comes to your house.

  • Extreme environmental clean-up does not appear to lessen the spread of lice. However, washing pillow cases may be useful. Spending excessive time and money on housecleaning activities is not necessary to avoid re-infestation by lice or nits that may have fallen off the head or crawled onto furniture or clothing.
  • Common sense should guide you if you wish to do anything more.
    • You may avoid lying on beds, couches, pillows, carpets, or stuffed animals that have been in immediate contact with an untreated, infested person.
    • You may choose to machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens, and other items that an untreated, infested person wore or used during the 2 days before treatment using the hot water (130°F) laundry cycle and the high heat drying cycle. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry-cleaned OR sealed in a plastic bag and stored for 2 weeks.
    • You may vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the untreated, infested person sat or lay.

5.       Be sure other members of the household including dual households and yourself are examined and treated for head lice if needed.

6.       Do not use pest sprays and fogs in the house.

  • They are not necessary to control head lice and can be harmful if they are inhaled or get into the skin, especially on young children.

Additional Information:

Last Updated
Adapted from Head Lice Prevention & Control (Copyright © 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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