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Head Lice Facts

What are Head Lice?

Head lice (also known as "head louse") are small insects that live in people's hair and feed on their blood. Lice glue their eggs (also known as "nits") to hair so they cannot be brushed or shaken off easily.

Lice eggs take about six to nine days to hatch. After they have hatched they take about seven or more days to become egg-laying adults. Lice die very quickly (usually about two days) without feeding and cannot live very long away from a person's head.

What are the symptoms of a head lice infestation?

Head lice can colonize a person's head and cause an infestation. Signs and symptoms of an infestation include:

  • a person's head (and sometimes neck) being very itchy
  • small, red bumps on the scalp, neck and shoulders
  • tiny white specks (the eggs or nits) on the bottom of each hair shaft that are hard to remove

Who can get head lice?

Any human with hair can get a head lice infestation.

What is the treatment for a head lice infestation?

There are several easily available treatments for head lice infestations, some of which are:

  • Nit combing and removal
    • Nit combs can be purchased at your local pharmacy
    • Comb hair with a nit comb everyday for about two weeks
    • Nits that cannot be removed with a comb can be picked out with your fingernails or tweezers
  • Over-the-counter head lice treatments that can be purchased at your pharmacy
    • These treatments involve using products to wash and treat the hair which kill the lice and nits
  • In the event neither of these treatments work you may want to consult a healthcare provider for assistance

Treatments that have not been proven:

  • Vinegar
  • Compounds that say they dissolve the glue on the nits "to ease their removal"
  • Mayonnaise
  • Olive oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Lotions that "suffocate" lice

How are head lice spread?

Head-to-head contact with an infested person is the most common way to get head lice. Head-to-head contact is common:

  • During play at school
  • At home
  • During sports activities
  • At the playground
  • At slumber parties
  • ... and many other things

It is also possible, although it is uncommon, to get head lice through sharing things that may be infested with lice like:

  • Clothing (hats, scarves)
  • Hair accessories (combs, brushes, ribbons, ties)
  • Towels
  • Bed
  • Pillow
  • Carpet
  • Couch

Dogs, cats, and other pets do not play a role in the spread of head lice.

How are head lice infestations prevented; how is its spread prevented?

There are practices that you can take to get rid of head lice or nits remaining in your home:

  • Wash clothing and bedding in hot water for at least 20 minutes
  • Seal items that may have been infested in bags for two weeks (to stop the lice from feeding)
  • Boil or soak in rubbing alcohol: combs, brushes, and hair accessories
  • Vacuum carpets and furniture

Do I need to remove my child from school?

In the event that your child may have a head lice infestation you should inform the school nurse or administration. Schools and child care facilities have varying rules about whether your child will be able to attend them while having a head lice infestation.

*Information and images used on this page were gathered from the California Department of Public Health, PubMed Health, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Additional Resources

For Health Care and Child Care Service Providers

Please visit the California Department of Public Health - Head Lice website's provider section for information and available procedures

Additional Information and Images (External Links)

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