During this winter season, holiday travel is abundant. Additionally, most of us must bundle up to keep warm in the cold as we hustle and bustle from one place to another. However, these two staples of wintertime can present the perfect opportunity for you and your loved ones to be afflicted with unwanted house – and bodily – guests. Bed bugs and head lice are commonly and easily spread parasites that cause those who are plagued by them intense itchiness and discomfort. A hassle to get rid of, the best method of treatment is prevention.

Anyone who reminisces upon their school days will remember lining up with their peers for routine head lice checks by the school nurse. Children were, and are still, admonished to not share hats, scarves, combs and blankets with other kids. However, many parents may not know that clothing and hair accessories are not the only way in which lice are spread. While direct head-to- head contact is the most common way lice travel, even movie theater seats can aid in their spread.

What are the best steps to take in order to prevent an infestation? How would a family or an individual go about treatment if pests are found? First, identify whether or not the infestation is lice or bed bugs. Different insects call for different treatments, therefore one has to know what they’re dealing with. Although both lice and bed bugs are small, blood-sucking and easily spread, they vary in appearance and behavior.

Head lice tend to look like small grains of rice and are usually grey or white in color. They attach themselves to the hair so that they can feed and lay eggs. Bed bugs, on the other hand, bear more of a resemblance to apple seeds and bite on bare skin rather than the scalp. They are reddish-brown and often found near or around areas where people sleep. Both insects are wingless and can be transferred by the sharing of clothing and bedding. While neither are known to spread disease, the itchiness and unease they cause is enough motivation to seek extermination.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur in the US among children aged 3 to 11 years. Although lice cannot jump, hop or fly, they have the capacity to spread at rapid rates. Head lice are usually spread through contact with an infested person’s hair. While the CDC states that transmission through the sharing of clothes, brushes, combs, bedding and towels is uncommon, it is still possible. Additionally, personal hygiene and cleanliness of the home or school is not a factor in the spread of lice. Like bed bugs, head lice can thrive in the cleanest of environments.

Unlike head lice, bed bugs are more likely to spread through luggage, backpacks, briefcases, mattresses and used furniture. They hitch a ride and proceed to make themselves at home in your space. In order to prevent bed bugs, it’s important to inspect any furniture before bringing it inside. It is also advised to inspect hotel rooms before you get settled in and avoid placing your luggage on the bed. Leave your suitcase closed and try to avoid unpacking your clothes in the room’s dresser or closet. Vacuum the home frequently and reduce clutter so that bed bugs have less places to hide.

The main way to treat bed bugs is to take all affected clothing, bedding, curtains, etc. and wash them in boiling hot water or get them dry-cleaned. One should also thoroughly vacuum the area and discard the vacuum bag right away. For severe infestations, a professional pest control service is needed to spray insecticide throughout the space. If you live in an apartment, the property manager should be alerted and have the entire building treated, as it is possible for bed bugs to crawl into your home from neighboring units.

There are many special shampoos and hair products that aid in the extermination of head lice. Just like bed bugs, all affected clothing and bedding must be washed in boiling hot water to kill adult insects as well as larvae (or nits) and eggs. Towels that one might use to dry their hair need to be washed as well. Items that cannot be washed should either be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag and stored away for two weeks. It is also advised that one vacuums furniture and floors to remove shed hair that may have nits attached to them. Once treated with medicinal shampoo, comb remaining lice and nits out of hair with a fine-toothed nit comb. Because these treatments contain pesticides and insecticides, it is important to follow all instructions listed on the product or given by a physician. Using more product than what’s needed – or more frequently than directed – can be harmful to one’s health.

Finally, the most important thing to do when treating lice or bed bugs is not to panic. Obsessive worry and anxiety won’t make the infestation go away, and it places undue stress upon those inflicted. Be diligent with prevention and treatment, and you and your home will be infestation-free in no time.