Your child comes home with a letter from school. It says he has lice. Now what?

Like the common cold, head lice spread easily among school-aged children. If your child gets lice, your first step is to not panic.

“Lice may be irritating, but they are not harmful,” says Kirstin Lee Campbell, MD, a Washington University pediatric hospitalist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “In most cases, taking a child with head lice out of school isn’t necessary.”

Next, buy a head lice shampoo at the drugstore. The most common ingredients in these shampoos are permethrin or pyrethrins. They are very good at killing lice and also very safe, Dr. Lee says.

Then, she says to:

  • Make sure everyone in your home uses lice shampoo. Have them do it on the same day if you can.
  • Wash all linens and towels in hot water. Dry them on high heat.
  • Vacuum mattresses, couches and seat cushions.
  • Pack stuffed toys and pillows in plastic bags for two days.
  • Repeat the treatment seven to nine days after you used it the first time for the best effect.

Mutant Lice?

Recent news reports about “super lice” that don’t die when standard lice shampoos are used may worry parents.

“Don’t let the news scare you,” Dr. Lee says. “Resistant lice are not a huge problem. If your child still has lice after you’ve taken these steps, a doctor can provide a prescription shampoo.”

Find more care guidelines in the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Kid Care app. Get it at Apple’s App or Google Play stores.


Expert Advice