Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Head Lice

Are you familiar with the popular game "20 Questions?" Well, let's play "10 Head Lice Questions!" The questions will revolve around everything you never wanted to know about head lice. I know, I'm itching all over too, but it needs to be discussed. Let's get started.

1. What are head lice (plural) or louse (singular)?

Head lice are parasitic insects that feed on human blood and cause severe itching on the head from their bites. Pediculosis is the general term used for lice infestation of the body or hair with adult lice, larvae, and their nits (eggs).

Head lice are gray or red-brown in color and vary in size from an 1/8 of an inch in size to just under one 1/4 inch long. Head lice are relatively common and aren't a major health hazard. Head lice can survive up to 30 days on a human because their eggs can live for more than 2 weeks.

Over 12 million Americans, most of them being children and school professionals, are infested with lice each year. You will never hear anyone say, "I have a head louse." If you have one, you have many. That's why you'll hear the word lice more much than you will louse.

2. How does a person get head lice?

Head lice is spread by sharing the same bed or clothes (hats and scarves), sharing towels, piling clothing or towels, storing personal items in close proximity or direct head to head contact, combs, and/or brushes with an infested person. The lice can survive only 1 or 2 days away from the scalp. Having head lice is not an indication of uncleanliness, but rather that all socioeconomic groups can be affected.

3. What are the symptoms of head lice?

Normally, the first symptom of head lice is persistent itching or scratching near the back of the head and or around the ears. Intense itching of the scalp, small red bumps on the scalp, neck, and shoulders, bumps become crusty and ooze, and tiny white specks (eggs, or nits) are on the bottom of each hair are the symptoms of head lice.

4. Do lice carry or transmit any diseases?

While many have thought head lice to be only a nuisance, recent study proves this notion wrong. DNA technology shows head lice to be the same species as the notorious body louse that has long been associated with diseases like typhus and relapsing fever.

5. What are the signs or symptoms of lice?

The most common sign of lice is a slight sense of something moving on the scalp, causing persistent scratching.

6. Are head lice contagious?

Yes. As long as lice or nits are still found on the scalp or on clothing, they can spread to others. Lice have a lifespan of 24-25 days.

7. If one person has head lice, does everyone in the house have to be treated?

It depends. Check each member of the house. Even if lice are found on an individual, take careful consideration before deciding to use a lice-killing treatment because each person has unique health vulnerabilities.

8. How can I delouse my house?

With hot water, wash all bedding and clothing that has been worn or slept on. For best results, wash these items in a delousing agent that is safe for your washing machine and fabrics. Vacuuming is the best way to remove lice and fallen hairs on furniture, rugs, and car seats. If there are certain items that can't be cleaned, bag them for two weeks and this will kill the lice.

9. If a person gets head lice once, can they get it again?

Sadly yes. It's not like chicken pox, a one-time-deal. Research shows that the more pesticides used to get rid of lice, the more likely the lice are to return again.

10. Can lice be prevented?

Yes. By checking the policies as schools, daycares, preschools, and nurseries are great ways to prevent children from getting head lice. At home, don't share hairbrushes, combs, hair bows, hats, bedding, towels, and clothing with anyone who has head lice.

Photo Credit: gipukan (rob gipman)

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