Head lice are crab-like parasites that slowly crawl on the scalp and hair roots. They feed on human blood and cause itch. Head lice are fairly common in schools, are very contagious and sometimes cause real epidemics. Characteristic of this infection is that it only occurs in the hair on the head.
Close contact between people is the main way in which head lice can spread. Because the lice can only crawl from one place to another, contamination takes place via direct hair contact. Head lice can easily spread, especially at schools. By playing and sitting close together, lice walk from head to head.
Female lice lay four to eight eggs a day and live under normal circumstances thirty to fifty days. An egg (nit) hatches after about seven days. Then it takes another seven to ten days before it has grown up.
Head lice feed on the blood of humans that they obtain by bites into the skin. The main symptom of head lice is itch and rash, caused by the saliva of the lice that is put into the skin during blood sucking. When the itch leads to scratching, wounds may arise which, in turn, can be infected by bacteria. This can lead to painful inflammation. Head lice are two to four millimeters in size.
A person can make the diagnosis of head lice by checking hair close to the scalp for lice and nits. With the aid of a fine lice comb, lice and nits can be caught. The difference between nits and dandruff flakes can be seen by looking whether the white flakes stick to the hair. If that's the case, they are likely nits. Dandruff is easy to remove. Head lice are contagious. If one family member has them, others may have them as well. It is advisable to check everyone for head lice each few days.
There are three treatment methods:
- Combing. The hair should be combed systematically several times a week with a special lice comb. Both the lice and the nits will mainly be found close to the scalp. The hair should be moist for best results and it should be done in good light. By combing above a white paper, the ‘harvest’ can be collected and checked.
- Suffocation of the lice. It is possible to suffocate the lice, using lotions or gels with dimethicone.
- Chemical treatment. This includes a lotion or shampoo that attacks the nervous system of the head lice, making the lice die. Nits are also eliminated this way. A single treatment is usually sufficient. Care should be taken that particularly the scalp behind the ears and in the neck is also treated. There are several head lice-killing lotions on the market that hardly differ from each other in effectivity. Unfortunately, some lice strains have in the meantime become resistant for one or more of this kind of resources. That means that the treatment is not effective enough and lice or their nits may stay alive.
With proper treatment, a person can get rid of head lice. However, one may hit a new plague. Reduce that risk by keeping your house clean and by avoiding contact with other infected people until they have been treated.
- People can reduce the risk of getting head lice by not sharing any personal hygiene stuff with others.
- Having head lice doesn’t indicate poor hygiene, as is sometimes assumed.
- With long hair, it’s advisable to wear your hear in a bun. Head lice move from one person to another when heads or hairs touch. Long hair often swings or may be static, making it come easier into contact with other persons.
- The best way to prevent head lice is to comb your hair with a special lice comb in the lice period, even when there is no itch yet. Do this on wet hair with plenty of conditioner. When there are lice in your hair, act quickly and the lice get no chance to lay eggs.
- The risk of contamination by the environment, for example via coats or such, is very low. Head lice are dependent on the warmth of its host and they have to drink blood several times a day to survive. Chances that you get head lice after hanging your coat during the day next to the coat of someone with head lice, is small.