What You Need to Know About Head Lice

School is back in session and children are together in classes again. This brings the chance of head lice finding their way into the schools as well. This can lead to a variety of concerns ranging from anxiety or embarrassment in the child to missed school days or doctor’s appointments. Fortunately, with quick action at the first sign of a problem, many of the most irritating issues can be prevented. 

What are the Signs That You May Have Head Lice?

  • A tickling feeling of something moving in the hair
  • Itching, caused by the bites
  • Having trouble sleeping – head lice are most active in the dark
  • Feeling irritable and short-tempered
  • Sores on the head caused by scratching. The scratches can become infected.

Head lice are insects that can be found on the head, eyebrows and eyelashes of people. They feed on human blood throughout the day and live close to the human scalp. Head lice move by crawling; they cannot jump, hop or fly. They are spread by coming into contact with the hair of someone who has head lice - either nits (lice eggs) or live lice in their hair. Head lice can be spread by sharing clothing or belongings, including items like hats, scarves, coats, sports equipment, hair ribbons, barrettes, combs, brushes, towels, or stuffed animals just worn or used by one who has lice. One more way of spreading the lice are by lying on a bed, couch, a pillow or on a carpet where a person who has head lice has just been. People who keep themselves and their houses clean can still get head lice. For items that can be washed, wash in hot soapy water and dry in a hot dryer. For items that can’t go in the washing machine, vacuum thoroughly or seal in plastic for two weeks. Avoid using any sprays.

There are medicated shampoos that can be used to get rid of head lice. Children also should be taught not to share their hair brushes, combs, hats, or towels with others.

 

There are 6-12 million cases of head lice each year found among children 3 to 11 years of age. Family members of children or others living in the home can also get lice.

 

Head lice go through three stages: the egg (also called a nit), the nymph, and the adult. 

Nits (eggs) are laid by the adult female in the hair near the scalp. They are firmly attached and are oval-shaped, very small – about the size of a knot in thread, and hard to see, unless you are looking very closely for them. They often look yellowish or white in color but sometimes appear to be the same color as the hair. 

Nits are often confused with dandruff, scabs or hair spray droplets. Head lice nits take about 8-9 days to hatch. Once hatched, they are called a nymph (young louse). To live, the nymph bites and feeds on the tiny drops of blood. It takes about 9-12 days for nymphs to mature into adult head lice.

The adult head louse is about the size of a sesame seed, has six legs and is tan to grayish-white in color. To survive, they also must feed on blood. An adult head louse can live about 30 days on a person’s head but will die within 1-2 days if it falls off of a person. Adult female lice can lay about six eggs per day. 

They are found on the scalp, around and behind the ears and near the neckline at the back of the head. They also can be found on the eyelashes and eyebrows but this is less common. They hold tight to hair with their hook-like claws at the end of each of their six legs and can be very hard to remove. 

Head lice are not a medical danger. They are an irritating problem because they spread from one person to another, and should be reported to the school nurse. If you have had a problem with lice in your family, check with your school to see if they have a policy telling you when your child can come back to school. 

If you are not sure if you or your child has head lice, you should see your doctor or school nurse. For more information, call the Four Corners Health Department at (402) 362-2621 or toll free at 877-337-3573, or e-mail at info@fourcorners.ne.gov. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.