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What is Head Lice and How to Prevent It

Feb 2, 2023Library

April Gerhard, RN, BSN 

Head lice are tiny insects that are found almost exclusively on the scalp, but they can live on eyelashes, eyebrows, and even pubic area. They survive by feeding on human blood. Lice are most often spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person.  Transmission through contact with inanimate objects, linens, and personal belongings is uncommon. Lice do not fly or jump and do not survive long if they fall off a person and cannot feed. Lice do not transmit disease and are treated with medications.

Lice cause a tickling sensation of something moving in the hair, itching- caused by an allergic reaction to the bites, sores on the head from scratching, and irritability and difficulty sleeping- head lice are most active at night.

In a hospital setting, patients need to be placed in a private room with the door closed and a sign on the door reminding all staff to utilize contact precautions. If a patient needs to be transported outside of the room, they will need to wear gloves, disposable coveralls with elastic at the arm and leg openings, and a head covering. Patients will not be allowed to enter common areas within the hospital (cafeteria, unit kitchens, main lobby, etc.). Personal items need to be placed in a sealed plastic bag and sent home with family members with instructions to wash in hot water and place in hot dryer for a minimum of 20 minutes. Personal belongings that are not able to be sent with family members need to be left in a sealed bag. Visitors should be limited and need to utilize the same contact precaution measures as the staff.

All staff needs to practice good hand hygiene with either hand sanitizer or soap and water before entering and leaving the room. Staff needs to wear a gown and gloves while inside the room that is disposed of immediately when leaving the room; a head covering can be utilized but is not required. Any linens that have come in contact with the patient 2 day before treatment and if active infestation is noticed need to be washed in the hot water laundry cycle (1300) and high heat drying cycle.

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