What are the environmental eradication methods used in the treatment of pediculosis (lice infestation)?

Updated: Aug 16, 2019
  • Author: Lyn C C Guenther, MD, FRCPC, FAAD; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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Since head lice can sometimes be spread by sharing hats, hair bands and accessories, and towels that have been in contact with an infested person’s hair, any object that the infested child or parent has come into contact with should be considered a potential fomite. It may be beneficial to launder potential fomites (eg, towels, pillowcases, sheets, hats, toys) in hot water, followed by machine drying using the hottest cycle. Temperatures exceeding 130°F (55°C) for more than 5 minutes kill eggs, nymphs, and mature lice. Items that are not machine washable may be placed in a dryer at high heat for 30 minutes. Dry cleaning may be an effective alternative.

Because adult lice cannot survive for long if separated from a host and because eggs hatch in 6-10 days and nymphs die without a blood meal, carefully sealing potential fomites in plastic bags for 2 weeks can be effective. This technique works well for objects such as stuffed animals that do not tolerate laundering or dry cleaning. Vacuuming selected areas of the home, such as couches used by infested patients, is recommended by some as an adjunctive control measure.

Combs and hair brushes can be discarded or soaked for at least 5 minutes in very hot water (>130°F [>55°C]).

Chemical insecticide sprays used in the home environment have not been shown to be effective in the control of head lice.

Providing education to children about the sharing of hats, combs, and hair-ties is also prudent. Giving children separate areas to store their belongings in the classroom may help prevent the spread of lice. [4]

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