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A Bit About Lice
Lice are parasitic insects that are found on people's heads, pubic area, and bodies. They feed on human blood to survive. But lice found in each area of the body are different from each other.
What Are Lice?
Information and the Facts of Lice: Lice (Pediculus humanus) are parasitic insects that are found on people’s heads, pubic area, and bodies. They feed on human blood to survive. But lice found in each area of the body are different from each other. Close person-to-person contact spreads and promotes lice infestations. Dogs, cats, and pets don’t transmit or carry human lice.
Where are head lice most commonly found?
Head lice and head lice nits are found on the scalp, particularly around and behind the ears and near the neckline at the back of the head. Head lice or head lice nits sometimes are found on the eyelashes or eyebrows, but this is uncommon. Head lice hold tightly to hair with hook-like claws at the end of each of their six legs. Head lice nits are cemented firmly to the hair shaft and can be difficult to remove even after the nymphs hatch and empty casings remain.
A. Egg/Nit: Nits are lice eggs laid by the adult female head louse at the base of the hair shaft nearest the scalp. Nits are firmly attached to the hair shaft and are oval-shaped and very small (about the size of a knot in thread) and hard to see. Nits often appear yellow or white although live nits sometimes appear to be the same color as the hair of the infested person.
B. A nymph is an immature louse that hatches from the nit. A nymph looks like an adult head louse but is smaller. A nymph must feed on blood to live. Nymphs mature into adults about 9–12 days after hatching from the nit.
What are the symptoms of head lice infestation?
- Tickling feeling of something moving in the hair.
- Itching, caused by an allergic reaction to the bites of the head louse.
- Irritability and difficulty sleeping; head lice are most active in the dark.
- Sores on the head caused by scratching. These sores can sometimes become infected with bacteria found on the person’s skin.
Who is at risk for getting head lice?
Head lice are found worldwide. In the United States, infestation with head lice is most common among pre-school children attending child care, elementary schoolchildren, and the household members of infested children. An estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age. Head lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly. Head lice are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person. Anyone who comes in head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice is at highest risk. Spread by contact with clothing (such as hats, scarves, coats) or other personal items (such as combs, brushes, or towels) used by an infested person is uncommon. Personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting head lice.
C. Adult head lice are roughly 2–3 mm long. Head lice infest the head and neck and attach their eggs to the base of the hair shaft. Lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly. The fully grown and developed adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, has six legs, and is tan to grayish-white in color. Adult head lice may look darker in persons with dark hair than in persons with light hair. Adult head lice feed on blood to survive. An adult head louse can live about 30 days on a person’s head but will die within one or two days if it falls off a person. Adult female head lice are usually larger than males and can lay about six eggs each day.
How is head lice infestation diagnosed?
A diagnosis of a head lice infestation is made when a live nymph or adult louse is present on the scalp or hair of a person. Because nymphs and adult lice are tiny, move quickly, and avoid light, they can be difficult to find. Use of a magnifying lens and a fine-toothed comb may be helpful to find live lice. If crawling lice are not seen, finding nits firmly attached within a ¼ inch of the base of the hair shafts strongly suggests, but does not confirm, that a person is infested and should get treatment. Nits that are attached more than ¼ inch from the base of the hair shaft are almost always dead or already hatched. Nits are often confused with other things found in the hair such as dandruff, hair spray droplets, and dirt particles. If no live nymphs or adult lice are seen, and the only nits found are more than ¼-inch from the scalp, the infestation is probably old and no longer active and does not need to be treated.
Facts of Lice – Cliff Notes
- A head lice infestation has nothing to do with cleanliness.
- The best course of action is to have head lice professionally removed, and have your home and vehicle professionally cleaned. Read more.
- Head lice are spread through close human-to-human contact. Make sure you get your entire household checked for lice.
- Follow-up on all treatments and make sure you complete every step of the process.
- The facts of lice are that they can infest any home at any time, but treatment is easy if done by a professional the first time.