Head lice are common and are not a reflection of cleanliness. They are tiny parasitic insects that feed on human blood, but are not poisonous despite the itchy scalps that they cause. Lice infestations result from people spreading the insects to one another, something easily done in close-contact situations like child day care and college dorms.
Forms of Lice:
Nits are the eggs, and are about the size of poppy seeds. They are either yellow-brown, or white. These grow into nymphs, which look like smaller versions of adult lice. Adult lice are about the size of sesame seeds and a similar tan or gray-white. The adults can live for up to 30 days on someone’s head, but only 2 days without a supply of human blood (i.e., in a hat, coat, pillowcase, rug, etc.). When on a human head, lice generally congregate behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.
How are lice spread from one person to the other?
Head lice are spread most commonly by direct head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact. 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 a carpet or furniture is very small. Head lice survive less than 1–2 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.
Prevention and Control Tips:
The following are steps that can be taken to help prevent and control the spread of head lice:
- Avoid head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact
- Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, or hair ties.
- Do not share combs, brushes, or towels. Disinfest combs and brushes used by an infested person by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5–10 minutes.
- Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets, or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with an infested person.
- Be sure to kill all the lice and nits that may have spread to clothing and furniture, too. To do this, wash all washable clothes and bed linens touched by the infected person during the 2 days before treatment. Dry-clean non-washable clothing. Anything else that can’t be washed or dry-cleaned (comforters, stuffed animals, etc.) can be put into a sealed plastic bag for 2 weeks. Combs and brushes can be soaked in rubbing alcohol or disinfectant for at least 1 hour. Vacuum the floors and furniture. Be thorough!!
If you think that you might have lice, have someone carefully check your head for (and remove!) lice in all stages of growth. If you do find lice, you can treat it with a package of RID that you can find at most drugstores. It’s a good product for de-licing heads; just make sure to follow all the instructions completely and carefully. No lice treatment actually kills all lice eggs, so a repeat check — and occasionally treatment, as well — is important. Make sure to recheck for lice and nits every 2 or 3 days after the initial treatment. Continue this for at least two weeks after the first treatment until there are no longer any lice or nits to be found.
*Information adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Williams College Student Health and Wellness