You may have seen one. Or experienced its infestation when you were a kid. Most probably it was not a pleasant experience. We are talking about the dreaded head louse or the lice if it was an army of them. But what are head lice? What makes these flattened, parasitic, blood-seeking insects so horrible? We will try to answer a few such questions in this article.
So What are Head Lice?
From the Wikipedia definition – The head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) is an obligate ectoparasite of humans that causes head lice infestation (pediculosis capitis).
In simple words, head lice are a type of parasite that lives in the human hair and feed on the blood from the scalp. They are tiny, around 2-3mm in length and wingless. They are big enough that you can see them with your naked eyes.
They are translucent, usually tan in color or sometimes grey-white and have six legs. With claws at the end of their legs, they cling to the base of the hair. Thankfully, they can’t jump.
The females can lay up to 10 eggs in a day. These eggs are called nits. And yes, the term nitpicking comes from the act of picking out lice nits. These nits are stuck to the human hair by a substance secreted by the momma lice. They appear like dandruff but they do not move when brushed off.
When the eggs hatch, the baby lice are called nymphs. It takes them just 7 days to turn into adults. When turned into adults, the females are slightly bigger than the males. The lice can live for up to 4 weeks and in the meanwhile, they reproduce.
Both adult and nymph lice need a host to survive. They cannot live without blood from the host for more than 2 days. They usually die within 2-3 days outside the host’s body.
The typical behaviour of Lice on the Scalp
All lice exhibit a similar behaviour pattern in both clinical and natural conditions-
The food – as mentioned earlier, both nymphs and adult lice need blood to survive. They bite the scalp for feeding at least 4 times a day. Their saliva contains an anticoagulant which keeps the bite fresh, ensuring blood supply. They inject it in the skin when they bite.
Areas of Head – Lice don’t like light. They are typically found in the areas of the head where it is darker. You will usually find them dwelling near the nape of the neck and the area behind the ears. Though, it is possible to find them all over the head if the infestation is severe.
Transmission of Lice – Because they can’t jump or fly, lice usually move from one host to another when the hosts themselves are in contact. The reason lice in children spread so fast is because of their constant head bumping during their social interactions. It also happens with mothers and their children.
The Spread of Lice
You may now know how lice transmit from one point to another. They generally move from physical head to head contact only. They don’t jump or fly.
Most people associate a lice infestation with dirty surroundings or maintaining poor hygiene. But many lice treatment clinics and scientific studies have proven time and time again that there is no correlation between lice and hygiene or a dirty house.
Unlike humans, lice don’t discriminate. They can be there on a Beverly Hills child or a kid from the suburbs.
While they mainly spread through head to head contact, it is possible for them to spread through other means as well. They can spread with sharing of items like combs, brushes, towels, pillows, or bed sheets.
Some other common sources of head lice infestations are schools, camps, daycare, slumber parties and sports activities.
And remember, pets can’t get lice from humans and humans don’t get lice from animals. Good for both!
Prevention of Lice
So now you know what lice are, how they behave and what makes them spread. Now it’s time to make sure that no lice army attacks you or your child’s head. Here are some common tips to prevent lice infestation-
Control Head to Head Contact – It is not possible to completely prevent children from making head to head contact but teaching them to be a little careful will help you in the long run.
Keep a check – The best time to prevent spreading of lice is to kill it before it multiplies. Always check your child’s hair for any visible evidence of lice. If they are itching a lot lately then get cautious.
Keep Long Hair in Check – As mentioned earlier, lice don’t discriminate. But the chance of getting lice is more in girls compared to the boys. It’s because of their long hair. If your child has long hair, keep ponies or braids. This reduces the chances of getting in direct contact.
Sterilize everything – To prevent head lice you must clean all the products your child uses. Regularly wash the brushes, hair ties, combs and bed sheets. Wash them in warm water at minimum 140°F (60°C) and dry them with heat. This will be effective in killing the lice or nits if they are starting to appear.
Even though lice infestation is more of a cosmetic problem rather than a medical problem, it is still advisable to diagnose it as early as possible. Not only does it reduce the confidence of the person, it also disturbs their concentration. If the condition is serious, it is always best to contact a professional lice removal clinic.