Head lice are one aspect of having hair that we don’t particularly want to think about; however, we do need to be aware of them and the potential problems they can cause. It doesn’t take much to get an infestation. While lice cannot jump, they have developed claws that make them experts when it comes to climbing on hair strands. This means they can easily walk from one head to the next. And while head lice are nowhere near as prevalent as they were in ancient Egypt, they are still estimated to cause anywhere from 6 million to 12 million cases each year.
Head lice or Pediculus humanus capitis are parasitic insects that infect the human head. A person with head lice may feel as if something is moving around on their head. Accompanied by that can also be itching and sores. The sores will likely be a result of the louse feeding. Louse get their nutrients by using their claws to dig at the scalp and drink blood. Naturally, this can lead to a few complications like itching, and in extreme cases infection. Lice are not known to carry any diseases, and while they are irritating, they are not particularly harmful.
The life cycle of lice
Head lice have three distinct cycles. Nits are the name given to their eggs. These oval-shaped eggs are securely attached to the hair strand and usually yellow to white in color. As one might expect, nits are tiny, only about 2 or 3 mm long. These nits are typically laid close to the scalp. On average a nit will hatch approximately seven days after it is laid. The next phase in the cycle is a nymph, which is simply a baby louse. Nymphs look like an adult louse, save for the fact that they are smaller. Nymphs will reach full maturity in about one week after they hatch. In order to survive, nymphs must consume human blood. The final stage of the cycle is the adult. When fully frown lice is approximately the size of a sesame seed. As they are insects, lice have six legs and tend to be white or gray in color (interestingly enough lice that are in darker hair tend to look darker as well). Adult lice can live for about a month. A female louse can lay up to eight nits each day.
Lice cannot survive long if they fall off of the head and will typically die in about two days.
How lice spread
Head lice are most common in children (usually from the ages of 3 to 11); however, head lice can impact just about anyone. Lice spread because of head to head contact or contact with an infected person’s belongings, such as sharing a comb, hat, clothing, contact with infected furniture, etc.
Getting rid of lice
There are many over the counter treatments. Many come in the form of shampoos which can suffocate the lice; however, because of the nature of the life cycle of lice, these treatments will need to be applied multiple times. They also have specialized combs that you can use to force the lice and nits out. These treatments can be used in conjunction with one another.