Lice can be a real head-scratcher

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – With the start of another school year, a University of Florida expert warns of a head-scratching problem ─ lice.

September is Head Lice Prevention Month, and Rebecca Baldwin, a University of Florida entomology assistant professor, says opportunities abound for head lice to spread from person to person, but parents and children can do plenty to prevent or get rid of the bugs.

Schools check for head lice when students return in the fall, said Baldwin, a faculty member with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Over the summer, many children attend camp, where they share equipment or have sleepovers at which there is head-to-head contact. Children who have picked up lice at summer camp or from sleepovers will begin exhibiting symptoms of an infestation, which include head- and neck-scratching, nits on the hair shafts and seeing live lice.

Head lice are specific to humans, so they cannot be picked up from, or transmitted, to pets. They don’t jump or fly, but can crawl.

In fact, their legs are equipped with small claws that grasp onto hair shafts, Baldwin said. They can release their grip and fall to grasp another hair.teed off This is why girls with long hair are more susceptible.

“They can also hitch a ride on caps, headphones or batting helmets, but they most commonly are transmitted through head-to-head contact,” she said. “The first sign of head lice is usually noticing the eggs that are glued to the hair shaft. We call those eggs nits. That is where the term ‘nitpicker’ comes from.”

Parents should inspect scalps and hair regularly to identify a head lice infestation before it spreads, she said. Hair should be inspected in sections and can be twisted and pinned out of the way once a section is complete.

If one member of a family has head lice, all immediate family members and close friends should be inspected. To inspect, find an area with a bright or natural light. When you part the hair, the live lice will crawl away from the light, so you can look for that movement and comb out the louse. Lice can only live about 24 hours without a human host, so there is no need to make a pesticide application to the home, classroom, or environment.

For more information on head lice prevention, visit or go to


Writer: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303,

Source: Rebecca Baldwin, 352-273-3974,



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Posted: September 8, 2014

Category: Pests & Disease, UF/IFAS, Work & Life

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