Head lice seek a real blood meal

Oct. 30, 2011 at 8:39 PM
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MAYWOOD, Ill., Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Halloween may call for scary delight, but parents may be scared getting a note from school saying lice were detected, a U.S. infectious disease expert says.

"While the make-believe vampires are prowling for candy, head lice are looking for a real blood meal," Dr. Andrew Bonwit, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Loyola University Health System near Chicago, said in a statement. "Lice grip the hair shaft while biting into the scalp to feed on blood."

However, Bonwit said a bite will rarely, if ever, be painful, and it is more likely to itch.

"Lice cause more emotional distress than any real physical harm," Bonwit said. "The infestation is usually a nuisance and almost never a serious problem in itself."

Lice are very small and produce eggs, called nits, which become strongly cemented to the host's hair shafts.

"Sometimes the victim has been so itchy that he or she scratches the scalp to the point of minor skin infections and even causing some enlarged lymph nodes on the back of the neck or behind the ears," Bonwit said.

"While these changes may alarm parents, they aren't directly harmful."

A child's physician can instruct and or prescribe remedies to clear up those secondary problems, Bonwit said.

"Parents may become understandably upset by outbreaks of head lice, but it is important to remember it is treatable, although repeat applications of medicine are usually needed," Bonwit added.

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