September is National Head Lice Prevention Month, a valuable yearly reminder for parents to consistently check their children for lice and nits. The head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis, is a parasitic insect found on people’s heads, eyebrows, and eyelashes. They are most commonly found on the scalp, behind the ears, and neckline at the back of the head. There are three life stages: the egg (or “nit”), nymph, and adult. The nits are very hard to see, but they often look yellow or white, although there are some cases in which the nits can be the same color as the infested person. The nymph is a smaller version of the adult, and the adult is about the size of a sesame seed that is tan to grayish-white in color.
While not known to spread diseases, head lice feed on human blood several times a day. They live close to the scalp. Anyone can get lice, but children attending preschool child care, elementary school children, and household members of infested children are more likely to get lice. Head lice are known to move by crawling. They cannot hop or fly like other insects. They are spread by head-to-head contact with the hair of an infested person because head lice claws are adapted for grabbing the shape and width of hair.
The symptoms of head lice are commonly referred to as an itchy feeling or something moving in the hair, itching (which happens due to an allergic reaction to the bites), irritability and difficulty sleeping (since head lice are nocturnal), and sores on the head which are caused from scratching.
If you suspect that your child may have head lice, confirm its identification. UF’s Insect ID can help. Lice combs are highly effective in removing nits and lice. The teeth of these combs are positioned closer together than other hair combs. See the video by the American Academy of Dermatology that is posted at the end of the blog. The video also provides guidance on products that can be used for treatment.
Additional measures include putting hats, scarves, pillowcases, bedding, clothing, and towels worn or used by the infested person in the washing machine with hot water and/or dryer for more than 5 minutes. Items that cannot be washed in a washing machine can be stored in plastic bags for two weeks. Hats, hair brushes, and towels should not be shared, and vacuuming furniture and floors is recommended.
Avoid head-to-head contact and sharing clothing and hair brushes with an infested person to prevent an infestation.
CDC Head Lice: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/index.html
UF Insect ID: https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/insectid/
American Academy of Dermatology Video: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/head-lice-treatment
Feature Image: raisingchildren.net.au