According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 6 million to 12 million children each year, ages 3 to 11, will become infested with head lice. And while it’s most common among preschool and elementary-school-age children, no one is immune, especially the family members and caregivers of those who are infested.
What they are: Lice are parasitic insects that can be found on people’s heads and bodies, including the pubic area. Human lice survive by feeding on human blood. Lice found on each area of the body are different from each other. Adult head lice are 2.1-3.3 mm in length. Head lice infest the head and neck and attach their eggs to the base of the hair shaft.
How they are spread: Lice infestations are spread most commonly by close person-to-person contact. Dogs, cats and other pets do not play a role in the transmission of human lice. Lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly. However, much less frequently, they are spread by sharing clothing or belongings onto which lice have crawled or nits attached to shed hairs may have fallen. The risk of getting infested by a louse that has fallen onto carpet or furniture is very small.
Head lice survive less than one or two days if they fall off a person and cannot feed; nits cannot hatch and usually die within a week if they are not kept at the same temperature as that found close to the scalp.
- Head lice never leave the head unless forced to do so. Head lice removed from the scalp soon die.
- Head lice are not a sign of uncleanliness; If your hair is dirty, it is less likely that you will get head lice than if your hair is clean. Many people think that lice are attracted to people with poor hygiene, but in fact that is not true at all. Dirty hair tends to have an oily sheen, which makes it harder for the lice to adhere to the hair.
- Eggs are not contagious; the only way you can get a case of head lice is if a bug climbs into your head. That bug lays up to 10 eggs a day and when these hatch, live bugs will come out and the cycle goes on. Eggs (nits) are stuck to the hair and cannot move to someone else's hair.
Symptoms: Head lice are not known to transmit any disease and therefore are not considered a health hazard. Head-lice infestations can be asymptomatic, particularly with a first infestation or when an infestation is light. Itching is the most common symptom of head-lice infestation and is caused by an allergic reaction to louse bites. It may take four to six weeks for itching to appear the first time a person has head lice.
Treatment: Treatment for head lice is recommended for people diagnosed with an active infestation. All household members and other close contacts should be checked; those with evidence of an active infestation should be treated. All those who are infested (household members and close contacts) and their bedmates should be treated at the same time.
- The hair should be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medicines, and a nit comb is used to remove nits and lice from the hair shafts.
- In addition to this process, hats, scarves, pillow cases, bedding, clothing and towels worn or used by the infested person in the two-day period just before treatment is started should be machine-washed and dried using the hot water and hot air cycles because lice and eggs are killed by exposure for five minutes to temperatures greater than 130 degrees F.
- Items that cannot be laundered may be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks.
- Items such as hats, grooming aids and towels that come in contact with the hair of an infested person should not be shared.
- Vacuuming furniture and floors can remove an infested person’s hairs that might have viable nits attached.