Newswise — Your children or grandchildren could easily carry unwanted guests to your home --head lice. These tiny, wingless, yellow-gray parasites are spread easily, especially by school children, through close contact and by sharing personal items.

An outbreak can cause intense itching. Head lice won't lead to serious medical problems, but unless properly treated, they can be a recurring problem.

The September issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter offers tips for spotting and treating head lice.

A bright light and magnifying glass can help you spot lice. Separate the hair into small sections down to the scalp, looking both for moving lice and eggs, called nits, attached to the hair shaft. Nits can be mistaken for dandruff, but unlike dandruff, they can't be easily brushed off. Inspect the entire head, being sure to look closely around the nape of the neck and ears.

Treatment is recommended if even one nit is found. Use lotion and shampoos designed to kill lice; there are several nonprescription options. The shampoos kill only lice, not nits, so you may need to repeat the treatment in seven to 10 days once any remaining nits have hatched. If nonprescription products don't work, your doctor can prescribe a stronger one.

Wash combs and brushes in hot, soapy water, or soak in rubbing alcohol for an hour.

Wash in hot water other contaminated items --bedding, towels, clothing and hats.

Store contaminated unwashable items in airtight bags for two to three weeks.

Vacuum carpets, mattresses, upholstered furniture and car seats.

Do follow-up checks. With a fine-toothed comb, comb through the hair weekly for several weeks to check for reinfestation.

Mayo Clinic Health Letter is an eight-page monthly newsletter of reliable, accurate and practical information on today's health and medical news. To subscribe, please call toll free 800-333-9037, extension 9PR1.


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