Head lice are an unpleasant, but common, part of early childhood. Children are particularly susceptible to an infestation of this perennial pest because they are likely to engage in the behaviors that allow lice to move from host to host. It has nothing to do with how clean or how dirty your child is, lice move between people regardless of socioeconomic position and once they arrive in your life, they can be extremely difficult to get rid of.
If your child has lice, then you need to be proactive about carrying the battle to the pests, because otherwise you could be dealing with this upsetting parasite for some time to come.
Children pick up head lice from other people-other children usually. Head lice are human parasites, so your child cannot get them from a dog or cat. They are very contagious and travel from one person's head to another's by grabbing onto strands of hair. Children frequently engage in the kind of physical closeness that promotes the spread lice, whereas adults usually do not.
Your child probably picked the lice up from another child they play with. You can help your child avoid lice by teaching them not to touch heads with other children and to avoid places where an infected child laid their head or textiles that the child used. When you notice your child's case of lice, be sure to contact officials at their school and child-care facilities to inform them of the outbreak. They will need to inform other parents.
For very young children you will need to comb the lice and their eggs, called nits, out of the child's hair with a special comb. The medications used to treat lice, even those available over the counter, are insecticides and are not safe for use on young children. Instead, wet your child's head to immobilize the lice and nits then thoroughly comb their head. Repeat this process for up to two weeks after your last lice sighting.
In the meantime gather up the infected child's clothing, toys, and bedding and either wash on high heat and dry extensively in the dryer or bag them up without oxygen for at least two weeks. This process will need to be repeated for any family member who has close contact with the infected child or you will likely see a repeated re-infestation.
For older children, you can use the medications prescribed by your doctor or the over the counter options. Make sure that you follow the instructions exactly and if there is no change in the household lice population then try switching medications and reevaluating potential sources of re-infection.
Do not call in pest control or waste time bombing your house as the lice cannot live long without a human host. Inappropriate removal strategies like these are a waste of time and can be dangerous to your health and your environment.