OCTOBER 22 - While the kids are donning creepy costumes this Halloween, there's something even more creepy to keep in mind: Crawling insects may be feeding on your children's heads.
Like creatures in a microscopic horror film, head lice feed on tiny amounts of blood from the scalp, which is also where they lay eggs. They cannot jump, hop or fly, but they can spread from person to person - particularly among children who are in close proximity to one another. Once head lice are established on a person's scalp, they can survive for nearly a month, and can multiply quickly.
According to Joshua Meyerson, M.D., Medical Director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, anyone can get head lice, but problems worsen after kids go back to school each fall. "It doesn't matter how clean the home or school environment may be," Dr. Meyerson said. "Head lice are most common among pre-school and elementary school children, regardless of where they live or play."
That means all parents must be on the lookout for head lice on their children. The most common symptom is itching, especially behind the ears and at the back of the neck. Dr. Meyerson recommends that parents perform regular checks for signs of head lice. Parents should seat children under a bright light, part the hair and inspect the scalp for "nits," which are head lice eggs and their shells. Nits are tiny white or yellowish ovals and, unlike dandruff or other fine particles, they are firmly attached to the hair near the scalp. Live adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed, but are harder to spot.
"The good news is that lice don't carry disease or cause serious illness," Dr. Meyerson added. "They are treatable with special prescription and non-prescription medicines that are applied directly to dry hair, and then rinsed off as directed. Parents should talk with the child's doctor before beginning any treatment. Lice cannot be removed effectively with a comb. Use only products that are specifically approved for human use - NEVER use a product designed for use with animals or for insect control."
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego Counties. For additional information about detection and treatment of head lice, visit www.healthychildren.org, a children's health resource provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics.