Need to know more about the causes and treatments of head lice?

Here are answers to frequently asked questions from the Centers for Disease Control.

We know: All About Head Lice

What are head lice?

Head lice are parasitic insects found on the heads of people. Having head lice is very common.

What do head lice look like?

There are three forms of lice: the nit, the nymph, and the adult.

Nit: Nits are head lice eggs. They are hard to see and are often confused for dandruff or hair spray droplets. Nits are found firmly attached to the hair shaft. They are oval and usually yellow to white. Nits take about 1 week to hatch.

Nymph: The nit hatches into a baby louse called a nymph. It looks like an adult head louse, but is smaller. Nymphs mature into adults about 7 days after hatching. To live, the nymph must feed on blood.

Adult: The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, has six legs, and is tan to greyish-white. In persons with dark hair, the adult louse will look darker. Adult lice can live up to 30 days on a person's head. To live, adult lice need to feed on blood. If the louse falls off a person, it dies within 2 days.

Where are head lice most commonly found?

On the scalp, behind the ear,s and near the neckline at the back of the neck. Head lice hold on to hair with hook-like claws found at the end of each of their six legs. Head lice are rarely found on the body, eyelashes, or eyebrows.

What are the signs and symptoms of head lice infestation?

  • Tickling feeling of something moving in the hair.
  • Itching, caused by the an allergic reaction to the bites.
  • Irritability.
  • Sores on the head caused by scratching. These sores can sometimes become infected.

How did my child get head lice?

Anyone who comes in close contact with someone who already has head lice, contaminated clothing, and other belongings, can get them. Preschool and elementary-age children, 3-10, and their families are infested most often.

  • By contact with an already infested person. Contact is common during play at school and at home (slumber parties, sports activities, at camp, on a playground).
  • By wearing infested clothing, such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, or hair ribbons.
  • By using infested combs, brushes, or towels.
  • By lying on a bed, couch, pillow, carpet, or stuffed animal that has recently been in contact with an infested person.

How is head lice treated?

In most cases, head lice is treated by using over-the-counter or prescription medication. If you are unsure what to use, ask your pharmacist or doctor. Be sure to follow the instructions that come with the medication. Here are some common medications:

  • Over-the-counter medications include: A-200, Pronto, R&C, Rid, Triple X and Nix.
  • Prescription medications include: Ovide and Kwell.

Are there other things I should do beside treating the infected person?

Yes. You need to treat the household by doing the following:

  • To kill lice and nits, machine wash all washable clothing and bed linens that the infested person touched during the 2 days before treatment. Use the hot water cycle (130o F) to wash clothes. Dry laundry using the hot cycle for at least 20 minutes
  • Dry clean clothing that is not washable, (coats, hats, scarves, etc.) OR
  • Store all clothing, stuffed animals, comforters, etc., that cannot be washed or dry cleaned into a plastic bag and seal for 2 weeks.
  • Soak combs and brushes for 1 hour in rubbing alcohol, Lysol*, or wash with soap and hot (130o F) water.
  • Vacuum the floor and furniture. Do not use fumigant sprays; they can be toxic if inhaled.

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