Saturday, February 11, 2012
Head Lice Information and Prevention
What Are Head Lice?
Head lice are annoying parasites that live in human hair and feed about 5 times a day.
Head lice do not hop, jump, fly or swim. Lice cannot be caught from pets. They are
human parasites and the only place they can survive is on the human head. Although the
bite itself does not hurt, the louse excretes a substance to prevent clotting. That substance
can cause itching and scratching and sometimes can cause reddened areas on the scalp
and nape of the neck. Lice do not transmit diseases or cause permanent health problems.
Lice live close to the scalp and attach their eggs (called nits) with very strong “glue”. The
eggs are very hard to remove and hatch about 5 mm (1/4 inch) from the scalp.
Lice are not removed by normal washing with every day shampoo; they cling to the hair
with their 6 legs. It seems they prefer clean hair so even daily washing does not
necessarily protect us from catching head lice.
Head lice can survive for approximately 30 to 40 days on the head but cannot survive
more than about 24 hours off the host. A female lays about 200 eggs, each of which takes
7 to 10 days to hatch and another 7 to 10 days for it to mature and lay eggs. The large
number of eggs and the long gestation period make lice difficult to control. Once the head
is shampooed the lice may not die immediately but for several hours may be seen moving
What do Head Lice Look Like?
Mature lice are 2 to 4 mm long, shun light and move swiftly in all lateral directions,
clinging to and crawling through the hair with their 6 legs. Otherwise transparent, head
lice camouflage themselves by darkening, after feeding, to the color of the skin and hair
of the host, in a range of colors from blond to black.
Eggs are sesame seed sized, waxy ovals attached to the hair shaft, usually near the scalp
often at the nape of neck and behind ears.
1. A Simple Guide to Checking Hair.
* Wet hair, do not shampoo.
* Apply conditioner, which will slow lice movement down.
* Comb the hair with a very fine toothcomb.
* Wipe the comb on tissue paper to remove lice or eggs.
* Inspect the comb for lice and /or eggs.OR
1 Check dry hair thoroughly, section by section under a bright light
2 Look for adult lice and eggs.
Removing the eggs (nits) with a comb or by hand is time consuming but is the most
effective way to get rid of them.
A weekly head check at home, by the parent, is a good way to combat the problem. Your
child may complain of an itchy head but this may not always happen.
There are special head lice shampoos available at local pharmacies. These should be used
with caution and instructions followed. Remember that some of these shampoos
Lice can be difficult to treat; a second application will be required 7 days after the first to
destroy eggs that have hatched since the first application.
Some but not all shampoos will destroy the eggs.
Because of use and over use of head lice shampoos, head lice have become resistant to
the products that would once kill them, so no product is 100% effective even if you
follow the directions. That is why combing and nit (egg) removal is important.
Never treat or re treat “just incase”. Remember, some head lice products are pesticides,
which are toxic if over used and can be absorbed through the skin. Follow directions
There are herbal products available but often these are not as effective.
How Head Lice Spread?
They spread by direct contact of the head or hair with an infested person or through the
sharing of brushes, combs, hats, towels, helmets and so on.
If your child has head lice all members of the household should be checked and treated if
necessary. It is not necessary to treat a person if no lice or eggs are found. Remember
to wash all hairbrushes and combs weekly.
Normal vacuuming of the home is the safest and best way to remove fallen hairs, with
attached eggs, from furniture, rugs etc. All clothing, towels and bed linen should be
washed in hot soapy water and dried in a dyer if possible or left in direct sunlight for
several hours. Some information will say general vacuuming and washing of clothes and
bed linen is all that is necessary as lice will not survive for long off the head.
It is not necessary to spray furniture or carpets with pesticides. These can be harmful.Remember that lice can only survive off the head for approximately 24 hours
It is most likely that if eggs are present and the hair has not been treated there will be live
lice. They move quickly and are difficult to see.
4. School Practices:
If your child has head lice or eggs (nits) please notify the school nurse or your child’s
The easiest way to cope with the problem of head lice is to let the school know so parents
can be notified and children checked.
Please remind your children not to share combs, hats and towels.
The elementary school nurse will continue to do periodic checks of children for head lice.
If lice are found you will receive a phone call and will be asked to collect your child from
school. Once your child’s hair has been treated with the appropriate shampoo he/she can
return to school.
You cannot catch head lice from animals, they survive only on the human head.