Head Lice – The Facts
When you are dealing with head lice it can help if you understand how they operate.
Head lice are wingless insects that live on the scalp holding on to the hair.
They are greyish in colour but turn darker after feeding from the blood in the scalp
Head lice are 2 to 3 mm in size: the male is smaller than the female.
Lice live close to the scalp where they feed on blood and this bite can cause itching.
They especially love warm spots: behind the ears or around the neck.
Adult lice can live for as long as a month with females laying up to 10 eggs a day (300 eggs in a lifetime)
These eggs hatch after about 7 days and about 2 weeks later they are mature and the females can lay eggs.
Baby lice mature within ten days and only after that are they able to reproduce
Nits (lice eggs) are the empty egg cases left on the hair after the lice have hatched and are pale in colour
Lice spread when heads come into contact so sleepovers, after-school activities, playing with friends and visiting family are often the most common places for children to pick them up and pass them on
A louse cannot survive away from the head for more than 24 hours.
Myth: Head lice jump from one head to another
Head lice can only be passed by direct head-to-head contact – they cannot jump, fly, hop or swim
Myth: Head lice can be caught by sharing things like hairbrushes, towels or bedding
Head lice only survive on heads, dying quickly away from their food source. Adults and nymphs can only survive for 8-24 hours without feeding or they become too dehydrated to survive. They can only be caught from human contact
Myth: Head lice prefer clean hair
Having head lice has nothing to do with personal hygiene, head lice can live on all types of hair and no preference exists between clean or dirty hair
Myth: Shaving a child's head is the best way to get rid of head lice
Lice like to live close to the scalp and can survive on hair as short as 2mm long, so cutting hair short won't necessarily help and can be very traumatic for the child
Myth: Animals can carry and pass on head lice
Head lice can only live on human beings, people can't catch them from animals
Myth: Head lice are only caught from other children at school
A lot of head lice infections are caught from family and friends in the home and local community, not just at school – parents typically start to worry about lice when children go back to school so they are more likely to identify an infection and presume the lice were caught there