Find out in real time where head lice are wreaking havoc and if you should check your kids ASAP.

By Melissa Willets
July 26, 2016
head lice
Credit: Shutterstock

I'll never forget seeing a tiny bug in my daughter's hair one evening after a bath and thinking, "Ew, it's a gnat!" Um, then I saw another "gnat." And another. My heart sank, as the realization that I was looking at head lice hit me. Oh, did I mention all three of my girls ended up with it? Let's just say it was not a fun week.

Later, I would learn our school district was being hit especially hard by an infestation of head lice. If only I'd known ahead of time lice was running rampant in our area, I might have been more on top of checking my kids' hair.

Well, now there is a way to track lice's whereabouts. Nix, one of the over-the-counter head lice treatment brands, recently launched an online tracker that allows parents and school administrators to see where outbreaks are happening so they can be prepared. Using IRI data from lice product sales and crowdsourced data from school nurses and parents (you can even report a "sighting!"), and Google Trends data to track lice outbreaks, the Nix Lice Tracker shows in real time where those pesky buggers are wreaking havoc.

Nix lice tracker online
Credit: Nix Lice Tracker

I decided to try it out and was relieved to see the incidence level is low in my area at this time. But, according to a study by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the peak time for head lice to hit hard is in August and September when kids go back to school.

So what should you do if your area gets hit hard by head lice? Panic like I did? Nope! talked to southern California pediatrician Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., a parenting expert, author and mom herself, for some tips.

First, what should we be looking for? "Sometimes it's difficult to tell whether you are seeing lice or just some other scalp condition like dandruff, or even sand," Dr. Altmann says. "Adult lice are usually light brown in color and look like sesame seeds. They often move quickly and can be found on the scalp or hair. Eggs are yellow, brown, or tan. They look like tiny seeds that are firmly attached to the hair shaft and do not move."

Dr. Altmann suggests dividing hair into small sections to search for lice and their nits, or eggs. This can be pretty challenging with thick, long hair like my daughter has, and may take a while. But trust me, you'd rather catch lice early before it spreads to other members of the family.

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Altmann, it's pretty darn near impossible to prevent your child from getting lice because it spreads easily in schools and daycares. But, she recommends taking these preventative measures:

  • Teach your children not to share hats, hair accessories, combs, or other items that come into contact with hair. Discourage your children from sharing or stacking blankets, jackets, pillows, and towels, because lice can crawl from item to item.
  • Check your children regularly for lice if there is an outbreak at their school, even if they aren't showing any signs or symptoms (like, itching and irritability) and especially if there is an outbreak in school or in the region.
  • If you suspect your child has lice, make sure to wash all clothing, linens, and toys used by the infected person in hot water or through dry cleaning.

If your child ultimately gets lice, Dr. Altmann advises parents to act quickly to kill the lice, remove the nits, and stop the problem from spreading. Over-the-counter lice treatment products like Nix Ultra are available at your local pharmacy, and of course, talk to your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns about how to safely and effectively manage head lice.

P.S. Don't feel bad if your child gets it! When it happened to us, I didn't want to tell anyone due to shame, but guess what? As soon as I shared my experience, I found out almost everyone I know has had either a scare or their own encounter with the pests!

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.