Posted on 08/24/2015
Lice. The very word makes my head start to itch. Head lice is much more common in children and typically spread by direct hair-to-hair contact. Bigger than dust mites but smaller than bed bugs, these parasitic insects feed on human blood several times a day. They do not spread disease, but they are a nuisance, making a child’s scalp itchy; the resulting scratching can lead to infection.
Like bed bugs, lice exist in three basic forms: egg (or nit), nymph, and adult. Nits, or lice eggs, are typically laid near the scalp, at the base of the hair shaft. These small, oval-shaped white or yellow eggs are firmly attached to the hair shaft and can appear to be similar to dandruff or scabs. These nits take about 8 or 9 days to hatch. Once it hatches, an immature louse (or nymph) emerges.
In 9-12 days, the nymph grows into an adult louse, which is approximately the size of a sesame seed. It has 6 legs and typically appears tan or light gray; however, it can appear to be darker when in darker hair. An adult female louse can lay six eggs per day. If a louse falls off a person and does not find a new host, it can live only 1 or 2 days; however, on a person’s head, it can live up to 30 days. Nits cannot survive if they are not kept at a temperature close to that of a human scalp.
A louse can only crawl; it cannot hop or fly. As a result, lice are usually spread directly from one person’s hair to another person’s hair. However, lice can be spread by shared clothing, hair accessories, grooming tools, or other items such as pillows or bedding. (There is a very slim chance of becoming infested by a louse that has fallen onto furniture or carpet.)
The best way to prevent your kids from contracting lice is to have a “no hair, no share” policy. Typical hair-to-hair contact occurs during slumber parties, athletic competitions, and playground activities. Longer hair can be restrained to help reduce the chances of contact. Make sure your children know that borrowing or lending out hats, scarves, clothing, or hair accessories is not allowed. Neither is sharing towels or hair brushes.
If you suspect a grooming tool has been used by someone infested with lice, you can disinfect the item by soaking it in hot water (at least 130 degrees) for up to 10 minutes. Most experts recommend washing and drying on high heat any clothing or bed linens worn or contacted during two days prior to treatment. For non-washable items, seal in a plastic bag and store for 2 weeks. You’ll also want to vacuum the floor and furniture on which the person infested with life may have sat or lay, as an extra precaution against further infestation.
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