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Diseases »  Skin Diseases »

Head Lice

Head Lice

Head lice are parasitic wingless insects. They live on people's heads and feed on their blood. An adult is called a louse and is about the size of a sesame seed. The eggs, called nits, are even smaller - almost like a dandruff flake. Lice and nits are easiest to detect at the neckline and behind the ears. Head lice are extremely contagious. Close contact or sharing personal belongings, such as hats or hairbrushes, puts people at risk. Children ages 3-11 and their families get head lice most often. Personal hygiene has nothing to do with getting head lice. Symptoms are: - Tickling feeling in the hair - Frequent itching - Sores from scratching The most important step in treating head lice is to treat the person and other family members with medicine to kill the lice.

Introduction
Head lice are tiny wingless insects that live on people’s heads and feed on their blood. Head lice are very contagious. They easily spread through close contact or sharing personal belongings, such as hats, pillows, or hairbrushes. This program will help you understand head lice. It discusses the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of head lice.

What are Head Lice?
Head lice are insects without wings. They live on people's heads and feed on their blood. They are a type of parasite. An adult is called a louse and is 2-3 mm long, or about the size of a sesame seed. Head lice eggs, which are called nits, are even smaller. The eggs look almost like a dandruff flake. Lice and nits are easiest to detect at the neckline and behind the ears. A female louse produces about 100 eggs. The eggs hatch in 5 to 10 days. They mature in 10 days and live about 3 weeks or more. Head lice are contagious. Close person-to-person contact or sharing personal belongings, such as hats, puts people at risk of catching head lice. Head lice cannot fly or jump. Dogs, cats, and other pets do not play a role in the spread of human lice. Head lice are not known to transmit diseases and are not considered dangerous. Children ages 3-11 and their families get head lice most often.

Symptoms
Symptoms of head lice include:

  •     A tickling feeling of something moving in the hair
  •     Itchy scalp
Some people with head lice may experience irritability and difficulty sleeping. Head lice can be associated with sores on the head. However, it is the scratching of the scalp that causes the sores and not the head lice.

Causes
Head lice are mainly spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person. The most common way to get head lice is by head-to-head contact with a person who already has head lice. Close contact can be common among children during play at school, home, or other public places. Lice can live for about two days without a meal. If lice stay on a pillow or other fabrics, it is possible for other people sharing the fabric to get infested. Transmission of head lice may happen while:
  •     Wearing clothing, such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, or hair ribbons 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
Children are more likely to get hair lice because they frequently have in head-to-head contact as they play. Women are also more likely to get head lice than men because they have longer and thicker hair that can touch the hair of an infected person.

Diagnosis
The diagnosis of a head lice infestation is best made by finding live lice on the scalp or hair of a person. Lice are hard to find because they are very small, move quickly, and avoid light. Using a fine-toothed louse comb may help when looking for live lice. These combs can be purchased at most pharmacies. Head lice and eggs can be visible with the naked eye, although use of a magnifying lens may be necessary to find crawling lice or nits. Lice eggs are often confused with other particles found in hair, such as dandruff, hair spray droplets, and dirt particles. If lice eggs are found firmly attached to the bottom of hair shafts, it suggests but does not confirm a lice infestation. Lice eggs that are attached more than ¼ inch from the base of the hair shaft are almost always hatched or dead. If no lice are seen, and only the eggs found are more than ¼ inch from the scalp, then the infestation is probably old and no longer active. If this is true, treatment is not required.

Treatment
Treatment for head lice is recommended for people diagnosed with an active infestation. All household members and other close contacts should be checked. Anyone showing evidence of an active infestation should be treated. Treating a head lice infestation usually requires special medicated shampoos or hair creams. Many of these can be bought without a prescription. Pay special attention to instructions on the label or in the box. These instructions will tell you how long the medication should be left on the hair and how it should be washed out. Different treatments for head lice may come with different instructions. It is important to follow the instructions that are included in the package or on the package label. If the non-prescription medication does not kill the head lice, your doctor can prescribe a stronger shampoo. Special combs are also available to treat head lice. Very small gaps between the teeth of these combs allow you to brush head lice and nits away. Combs are a safe and effective way to get rid of head lice and nits without using a chemical shampoo treatment.

Preventing Head Lice
The following steps can be taken to help prevent and control the spread of head lice:

  1.     Avoid head-to-head, or hair-to-hair, contact during play and other activities at home, school, and elsewhere.
  2.     Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons, or barrettes.
  3.     Do not share combs, brushes, or towels. Disinfest combs and brushes used by an infested person by soaking them in hot water, at least 140° F, for 5-10 minutes.
  4.     Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets, or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with an infested person.
  5.     Machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens, and other items that an infested person wore or used. Use the hot water laundry cycle and the high heat drying cycle.
  6.     Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the infested person sat or was lying.
Do not use fumigant sprays or fogs to treat a lice infestation. These products are not needed and can be toxic to people and pets. It is difficult to prevent the spread of head lice among children because there is frequent head-to-head contact as they play. If your child gets head lice, it does not mean you have bad hygiene habits. Just get rid of the head lice by using special shampoo. Teach your child not to share hats, combs, scarves, and other hair decorations with their friends.

Summary
Head lice are insects that live on people's heads and feed on their blood. Head lice are contagious and spread through close contact or sharing certain personal belongings. Head lice are not known to transmit any disease and are not dangerous. The diagnosis of a head lice infestation is best made by finding live lice on the scalp or hair of a person. Head lice can be treated with special shampoos or head creams. All household members and other close contacts should be checked. Anyone with signs of of an active infestation should be treated.