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Lice In the Spotlight

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That's right, even the stars get it. Last week, the New York Post reported a lice outbreak among the cast of the Broadway show Matilda. "At least six of the children" have hair bugs, and that the producers are scrambling to get it under control.

And there's more lice in the news, too. It seems the selfie trend is having a side effect no one could have predicted. In a recent Huffington Post article, Marcy McQuillan of Nitless Noggins, a lice removal service, explained the change. "I've seen a huge increase of lice in teens this year. Typically it's younger children I treat, because they're at higher risk for head-to-head contact. But now, teens are sticking their heads together every day to take cell phone pics."

Lice even made a recent appearance on Modern Family. When Mitchell reports that lice is going around Lily's class, Cameron responds with a typical misconception.

"Ugh, it's probably from Portia. You know, she is always so filthy. They had to kick her out of swim buddies because she left a ring around the pool."

Lice are everywhere, and they do not discriminate. They like children in private or public schools. They like kids with clean hair and kids with dirty hair. They like Broadway stars and kids who can't hold a tune. They just love warm places where hair can protect them. Most of all, they love when heads come together so they can seek more lush pastures.

New research published in the Journal of Medical Entomology shows that lice are becoming increasingly difficult to remove. It's more important than ever to be clear about the facts so we can be ready when those more lush pastures are our own kids' heads.

As camp season approaches, I start to get more nervous about lice. As any parent who's been through it knows, having lice in the family is an emotional rollercoaster. I don't know one parent that doesn't squirm or panic when a lice outbreak occurs. As soon as I hear of an outbreak, out comes my lice comb and preventative shampoos and I go through my child's hair each night for a week.

So, how do you protect your family from lice? The first step is to get clear about the facts.

• Lice do not have wings, and they cannot fly or jump.
• Lice cannot be passed between human and pet.
• Lice is not a sign of poor hygiene -- clean and dirty hair is equally susceptible.
• Lice survive on human blood
• Lice generally do not survive on furniture or bedding for more than 24 hours.
• An estimated 6 to 12 million infestations occur each year in the US.
• The most common ages for infestation are 3-11 years, but they can affect people of any age.
• More females get lice because of their long hair, but boys also get lice.

How is lice transmitted?

Lice is transmitted through close contact of heads, as well as sharing brushes, helmets, hats, and hair accessories. Lice can also be transmitted through pillows and furniture if someone with lice has used them within 24 hours.

How can you prevent lice?

• Use a daily shampoo and spray that contain lice-repelling scents like rosemary, tea tree or mint.
• Use a lice comb to go through your child's hair once a week, especially when you hear news of an outbreak.
• Put your child's hair in tight ponytails or braids.
• Teach your child not to share hats or hair accessories.

As camp season arrives, we can't tell our children not to play next to each other or bunk together. That is what camp is about. But we can certainly acknowledge that lice strikes anyone, and we can be on the lookout for the signs of lice. But if it hits, there's no need to panic. Millions of parents go through it, and no one enjoys it, but knowing the facts can help us to treat the lice quickly and prevent it from coming back.