Itching is the main symptom of head lice infection. The adult female louse lays eggs, known as nits, close to the surface of the scalp. They hatch before the hair has grown more than a few millimeters. The eggs are flesh-coloured and are difficult to see, but once the female louse has emerged, the nits can be easily seen.
Occassionally flakes of dandruff or kertain casts may be mistaken for nits, but a microscopic examination of the material will reveal the distinction. At times, insects can be seen crawling on the hair. Their favourite haunts are on the scalp, around the ears or underneath hair grown at the back of the head. Head lice in children can be discovered by their frequent scratching on the back of the head, and by verifying the lice and the nits.
Head lice are very infectious and can be easily acquired by head-to-head contact with a person harbouring the parasite. They are common in persons who are crowded together and live in poor sanitary condition. They spread rapidly during disasters.
As with any other unhealthy condition, the first step towards treatment of head lice is thorough cleanliness. This should be observed by all members of the household. They should not share towels, pillows, combs and hair brushes. The comb and hair brushes of infected children should be disinfected daily by scrubbing with soap and water, and boiling them after they are used. A special comb with close-knit teeth, which is easily available, should be used. This will help remove the lice from the hair.
However, lice cannot be got rid of only with the help of a comb, they can be destroyed by certain effective methods also. One of these methods is to soak the scalp and hair for 24 hours with a mixture of equal parts of kerosene and vinegar. The head should be covered with a cap or towel. The head and hair should then be shampooed thoroughly with soap and hot water and dried with a towel. The nits should be removed with a fine comb dipped in hot vinegar. The kerosene kills the lice and the vinegar loosens the eggs or nits, so that they can be easily combed out. This treatment should be repeated two or three times and the hair should be combed with a fine-toothed comb many times between each treatment to remove the loosened eggs. Great caution must be exercised in keeping the child away from a heated stove or a flame because of the danger of igniting the hair.
Another method to destroy the head lice is to dust five per cent DDT powder in 95 per cent inert talc into the hair and scalp. Care should be taken to keep the powder out of the eyes by protecting them with guaze squares. The entire head should be wrapped in a scarf or clean towel. The scarf should be removed after several hours, preferably at bedtime. The next morning, the hair should be carefully combed with a fine tooth comb to get rid of the nits and dead lice. On the seventh day of the treatment, the hair should be washed with soap and warm water and allowed to dry. Thereafter, the DDT powder should be applied again in the same manner as before. On the 14th day, the hair should be given a final shampoo. Normally, two courses of treatment are sufficient. In some cases, it may be necessary to repeat this treatment for the third time.
The third effective method is to thoroughly cleanse the whole body from the scalp to the toes, using plenty of soap and water. Next, five per cent benzy and benzoate emulsion should be applied to all the itching areas. This should be rubbed well into the scalp at night, especially if the hair has been invaded by the parasites.
As the child affected with head lice can infect other children and members of the family, it is essential to examine the heads of all of them and treat them if lice and nits are found. Any head-dress worn by a child with lie should be sterilised by spraying with five per cent DDT solution.
The condition can be prevented by the maintenance of personal cleanliness and the avoidance of infected persons and their clothing. The clothing of individuals suffering from pediculosis should be soaked in boiling water and washed. As children are more likely to suffer from this problem, it would be advisable to keep their hair short.