FAQ - Facts Of Lice

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Head Lice FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

What are head lice and how can you get rid of them? When you encounter head lice for the first time, it makes sense to have a lot of questions. We have put together our top asked questions to help you deal with head lice and to dispel some lice myths.

Head lice are tiny wingless parasites that feed off human blood. Lice develop in three stages, nit to nymph to full-grown louse. The average size of a grown louse is 2-3mm, about the size of a sesame seed. Adult lice and nymphs (baby lice) are grayish white or tan in color. They are capable of changing color to camouflage in the hair. After a feeding, a louse’s abdomen fills with blood, giving them a brownish tinge in color. Nits (lice eggs) appear as tiny brown, tan, yellow or white tear-drops firmly attached to the hair shaft. The term nit refers to a louse egg, which may or may not contain a viable embryo. Nits appear darker if an embryo is within. An empty leftover shell will appear clear. Not sure if what you are seeing is lice? Use our Free Online Head Lice Diagnosis form.

Nits are head lice eggs. Female lice lay nits on hair shafts and a cement-like substance holds them in place. They take about 8 to 9 days to hatch. Once nits hatch, they leave their shells behind. These shells are also called nits.2 You can see why nits are sometimes misidentified as dandruff.

Head lice infestation, also known as pediculosis capitis and nits, is the infection of the head hair and scalp by the head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis). Itching from lice bites is common. The cause of head lice infestations are not related to cleanliness.

Super lice, like regular lice, are parasitic insects that can live in the scalp and feed on blood. Due to a genetic mutation, super lice are resistant to pyrethroids, the family of insecticides contained in common over-the-counter treatments used to kill lice, thus making a lot of over the counter lice treatment ineffective.

Most people associate head lice with an itchy scalp. Contrary to most beliefs, head lice often produce no symptoms at all. Itching is actually caused by an allergic reaction to the parasites saliva. Roughly 50% of people will develop an itchy scalp. In many cases, individuals develop a rash behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.

Reports estimate that 10-12 million individuals are treated for head lice annually. Most cases are common, although not limited to, amongst school-aged children. Anyone who comes into head-to-head contact with an individual who already has a lice infestation is at risk. Personal hygiene and cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting lice. Head lice actually prefer clean hair. Spread by contact with clothing (such as hats, scarves, coats) or other personal items (such as combs, brushes, or towels) used by an infested person is uncommon.

Head lice do not jump, hop, or fly – they crawl. Lice are spread mostly through direct head to head contact. The transfer of a louse is quick and only takes several seconds. It is possible, although unlikely, that head lice may spread through sharing hair accessories such as hairbrushes and hair clips, hats, scarves, pillows, blankets and other items, which had direct contact with the infested person. A healthy louse is clinging on to an individual’s hair as this is where their home is, and will not willingly leave to go onto an inanimate object. When a louse is found on an object, it is likely in the process of dying.

Absolutely! One of the most common assumptions which I hear is that, if an individual does not itch, then they surely do not have head lice. This is incorrect. Feeling itchy is an allergic reaction to the saliva of a louse. Although most people do develop a sensitivity to their saliva, for some, it may take as long as 4-6 weeks before a reaction occurs while for others, it may never develop. If a household member is diagnosed with head lice, it is important to check the rest of the individuals who reside in the same home, regardless of whether they itch or not. By skipping this step, the likelihood of spreading lice within the household members remains.

Yes, and no. In theory, the extreme heat from the flat iron would kill live lice, if it was to come into contact with one. However, when such strong heat is applied to the head, a louse would quickly flatten against the scalp. This would prevent the iron from having direct contact with a louse, and therefore, would have no effect on eliminating head lice.

Head lice are resilient little buggers and can survive through most hair salon treatments. Having hair dyed does not make an individual resistant to head lice. However, the dye does color the nits, making them more difficult to identify visually. For those with recently dyed hair, a comb out check is always recommended for an accurate diagnosis.

It is true that head lice prefer clean hair, only for one simple reason, it is more difficult for them to transfer and cling on to hair which is oily. However, once on a head, a louse will make a home in any type of environment, as long as there is enough hair to provide warmth for their nits to incubate.

Having a head full of hair makes an individual susceptible to head lice. A louse will not discriminate and will happily inhabit any types of hair – curly, straight, dyed, clean or dirty.

There are no shortcuts to treating head lice. The most effective lice removal treatment involves a thorough, meticulous combing, using a professional stainless steel nit comb and a non-toxic, pesticide-free product. Over the counter medications, such as Nix and Nix, contain harmful ingredients, such as permethrin, which are not only ineffective due to lice developing a resistance to the medication, but also do not kill nits (eggs). As a matter of fact, there is no product on the market which is strong enough (toxic enough) to penetrate through the shell of a nit. If not properly combed out, the remaining nits start to hatch shortly after and the infestation continues. This process leaves parents frustrated and confused and is usually when a lice professional gets called in. Our lice removal process guarantees to leave no nits behind. Our comb out process removes each and every viable nit and louse.

All close contacts should be checked so that re-infestation does not occur. This includes parents, siblings, babysitters, close family and friends. Close contacts are likely to have lice, especially if the infestation is severe. It is highly recommended that if a case of lice is discovered, all family members receive a thorough comb-out. Oftentimes another family member can have just a few nits or one louse, which can be easily missed without a comb-out. If left untreated, a full-blown infestation is likely to occur within a couple of weeks.

No, head lice cannot go away without corrective action. If left alone, head lice will continue to multiply and eventually infest your entire family.

It is possible to have head lice for years without knowing it, especially for those individuals that don’t experience itching. Generally, by the time head lice are discovered, the individual has had them for 2 to 6 weeks.

Head lice are not known to spread disease. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the greatest harm to children and adults associated with lice “results from the well-intentioned, but misguided use of toxic substances to eliminate head lice. However, secondary infections have been known to occur after scratching the scalp rigorously and introducing bacteria to damaged skin.

Dogs, cats, and other pets do not spread head lice. Just like humans can’t get fleas, pets cannot get head lice as head lice only feed on human blood.

It is possible for a healthy adult louse to live up to 2 days without a feeding. However, in most cases, lice will not live off of the head for longer then 12 hours.

A mature head louse can lay 6-10 nits daily and up to 180 lice eggs throughout its lifespan, which is approximately 30 days long. Nits are generally laid within 1 cm of the scalp, as they need warmth to develop and hatch. A louse glues each egg to the hair shaft. The glue serves as a protective shell for the developing embryo. It takes approximately one week for a nit to develop into a nymph and an additional week for a nymph to develop into an mature adult louse and start the reproduction cycle all over again.

Sometimes a head lice nit (egg) may be mistaken for dandruff because of its size and color. While dandruff can easily be plucked off the hair shaft with your fingers, a nit will stay put. Still not sure what you are seeing is head lice or dandruff. Use our Free online head lice diagnosis tool.

No. Head lice that fall off a person quickly starve and usually die within 15 hours (and most become incapable of feeding between 3-18 hours off a host). So lice that fall on a desk, floor or coat at school will not be alive the next day. And eggs that may come off a head will not survive. Clothing, stuffed animals, theater seats and other items are not threats to spreading head lice. Bathing every day will not prevent or wash away head lice. Cleaning the home or bagging toys and clothing won’t help you prevent or get rid of head lice.
Washing clothes or bedding of infested individuals is not a bad idea. When doing so, make sure to wash them in hot water (130° F [54.4° C]), then put them in the hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes.

Just as you’d want to know, the parents of your child’s friends will appreciate the information so that they can screen their children. The school nurse will also appreciate knowing about it, so she can screen the rest of the class and get the word to other parents discreetly and compassionately. Remember our motto: No Shame, No Blame! If you still feel hesitant about sharing the news use our anonymous lice notification form to let your friends and family know anonymously.

Get a professional grade nit comb and try it yourself. Remember, meticulous combing is the key to effective head lice removal, and conscientious follow-up is a must. If you choose to go the chemical route, read the instructions carefully, as they may pose a health risk in some individuals, especially children with asthma. Many of these products involve multiple treatments, yet still require thorough combings, and they tend to include cheap plastic combs, which researchers have found to be ineffective.

If you tried unsuccessfully to treat your family with over-the-counter or prescription medications, it’s probably time to call in the pros to help you break the cycle safely and with minimal disruption to your family and your schedule. Professional lice removal not as expensive as you think.

Most plans provide reimbursement through health savings accounts (HSA) or flexible spending accounts (FSA). Check with your provider to determine whether head lice remediation products and services qualify as covered expenses.

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