Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about head lice provided by the Center for Disease Control.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are head lice?

Head lice are small blood sucking insects that live on people's scalps also called Pediculus humanus capatis. A single insect is called a louse. They spread from one person to another usually through head-to-head contact.

More info from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Who is at risk for getting head lice?

Anyone who comes in close contact (especially head-to-head contact) with someone who already has head lice is at greatest risk. Occasionally, head lice may be aquired from contact with clothing (such as hats, scarves, coats) or other personal items (such as brushes or towels) that belong to an infested person. Preschool and elementary-age children, 3-11, and their families are infested most often. Girls get head lice more often than boys, women more than men. Personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting head lice.

What do head lice look like?

There are three forms of lice: the egg (also called a nit), the nymph, and the adult.

Nit: Nit are head lice eggs. They are very small, about the size of a knot in thread, hard to see, and are often confused for dandruff or hair spray droplets. Nits are laid by the adult female at the base of the hair shaft nearest the scalp. They are firmly attached to the hair shaft. They are oval and usually yellow to white. Nits take about one week to hatch. Eggs that are likely to hatch are usually located within ¼ inch of the scalp.

Nymph: The nit hatches into a baby louse called a nymph. It looks like an adult head louse, but smaller. Nymphs mature into adults about seven days after hatching. To live, the nymph must feed on blood. If the louse falls off a person, it dies within 2 days.

More info from Consumer Reports

Where are head lice most commonly found?

They are most commonly found on the scalp, behind the ears 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?

  • Ticking feeling of something moving in the hair
  • Itching, caused by 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?

Contact with an already infested person is the most common way to get head lice. Head-to-head contact is common during play at school and at home (sports activities, on a playground, slumber parties, at camp).

Less commonly:

  • Wearing clothing, such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, or hair ribbons recently worn by an infested person.
  • Using infested combs, brushes or towels.
  • Lying on a bed, couch, pillow, carpet or stuffed animal that has recently been in contact with an infested person.

How is head lice infestation diagnosed?

An infestation is diagnosed by looking closely through the hair and scalp for nits, nymphs, or adults. Finding a nymph or adult may be difficult; unless you have a severe infestation there are usually few bugs and can move quickly from searching fingers. A head lice infestation can be psychologically disturbing, but head lice are not a health hazard and are not responsible for the spread any disease. They are diagnosed through a trained individual who is familiar with the parasite and it's tell tail signs: eggs cemented onto the hair shaft (color varies by maturity) and/or bugs which also vary in size and color. This job can be made easy if the individual doing the screenings knows the specific areas head lice like to spend there time and lay eggs: Nape of the neck, behind the ears, crown, and front hairline.

This fact sheet is for information only and is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the disease described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.

Revised June 6, 2011

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