Head Lice Information
Pediculosis (or lice) is an infestation of the hairy parts of the human body or clothing with the eggs, larvae, or adult lice. At the crawling stage they feed on human blood, which may result in severe itching. Head lice are usually located on the scalp; crab lice in the pubic area; and body lice along seams of clothing where they then travel to the skin to feed.
Call your physician or local public health office for more information about pediculosis.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Usually the first sign of an infestation is itching or scratching in the area of the body where the lice feed. Itching at the back of the head or around the ears should lead to an examination for head louse eggs (nits) on the hair. Itching around the genital area should lead to an examination for pubic lice or their eggs. It is easier to see nits than crawling lice. Intense scratching may result in infection with bacteria present on the skin or hands. Nits are oval, whitish, about 1-3 mm in size, and attached to the hair shaft, usually at the base.
Both head and body lice transmission can occur during direct contact with an infested individual. Sharing of clothing and combs or brushes may also result in transmission of these insects. While other means of transmission are possible for pubic lice (crabs), the most common is through sexual contact. Lice do not jump or fly; they can only crawl.
It may take as long as 2-3 weeks or longer for a person to notice the intense itching associated with pediculosis.
One may only become infested if suitable conditions exist. Physical contact with infested individuals and their belongings (especially clothing, headgear, and bedding) should be avoided.
Washing clothing and bedding in hot water (130° F for 30 minutes) or dry cleaning clothes to destroy lice and eggs may help to prevent other family members from becoming infested.
Head lice are a common nuisance for human beings. Although some parents are mortified when they discover these insects on their children, the insects are not the result of poor hygiene or the lack of cleaning in the home or the day care facility. These pesky critters are not able to fly, hop or jump, but they can crawl from head to head when children are in close contact.
Water or regular shampooing does not dislodge head lice. There are over-the-counter medicated shampoos that can be used to effectively treat the lice, and special combs that are used to remove the dead lice and their eggs (nits) from hair shafts. Children under 2 years should not be treated with these medicated shampoos, and the lice and nits need to removed by hand on babies. Women who are pregnant or nursing should consult a physician before treatment.
Instructions for head lice killing products
Products (like Nix, Rid, Pronto, Clear, or A-200) can be purchased at your local drug store. Follow the directions on the package carefully. Ask your doctor if you're using them on someone who is pregnant, breastfeeding, has allergies, asthma, or other pre-existing medical conditions. Don't use these products on children under 2 years.
Treat everyone in the family who has lice at the same time.
Don't use combination shampoo/conditioners or cream rinse before you use the product.
Use the product over the sink, not in the tub or shower, and make sure you keep the person's eyes covered.
Take off all of the person's clothing from the waist up, and make sure you put on clean clothing after you're finished.
Cover the person's whole scalp with the product. It's better to put small amounts all over and then spread it out, than it is to put all the product in the middle and try to spread it out from there.
Don't overuse the product. Only leave it in for the amount of time it says on the package.
Don't wash the person's hair again for 2 days after the treatment.
You can reapply in 7-10 days if the product instructions recommend it.
Here are two alternative treatments to get rid of the insects:
(although there is no medical data to support these treatments, doctors say it can't hurt to try them)
Australian Tea Tree Oil: Place 12 drops of the tea tree oil (which kills the lice) in 1/4 cup baby oil (loosens the glue on the nits). Wrap hair in saran wrap or use a shower cap; cover this with a stocking cap. Wear overnight. Use a clarifying shampoo to wash out in the morning. To prevent re-infection, place tea tree oil in a quart of water and use as a conditioner. This keeps tea tree oil in the hair at all times and the lice do not like this.
Mayonnaise: Place mayonnaise on the hair as thick as possible (at least 1/4 inch thick through hair). Wrap hair in saran wrap and apply heat with a blow dryer for 20 minutes. The mayonnaise suffocates the lice and the heat helps release the glue on the nits making them easier to remove. Wash hair with a clarifying shampoo to complete the treatment.
With any method you choose, continue to comb through hair with an approved lice comb daily for three weeks to ensure removal of all nits.
Instructions for using a Nit Comb
Comb through the hair with a regular comb to remove the tangles first. Then, divide the hair into sections, and use hair clips to pin the hair you aren't working on out of the way. Comb through one section of hair at a time. Start at the nape of the neck and around the ears, and work your way up. Put the nit comb as close to the scalp as you can and pull it slowly through the hair. Slant the comb so the curved side of the teeth is towards the head.
Use a tissue to remove any lice, nits, or debris from the comb and put the tissue in a plastic bag.
Comb through each section of the hair making sure it's completely free of lice and nits until the entire head has been combed.
Clean the combs with an old tooth brush or dental floss, and then soak them in very hot water for 10 minutes.
Seal the plastic bag and throw it away.
Repeat this process every day for three weeks to make sure all the lice and nits have been removed.
To make sure that you do not re-infest anyone in the household, machine wash all washable clothing and bed linens that the infested person touched during the two days before treatment. Use hot water and dry the laundry using the hot cycle on the dryer for at least 30 minutes.
Dry clean clothing that is not washable, OR store all clothing, stuffed animals, comforters, etc., that cannot be washed or dry cleaned in a plastic bag and seal for two weeks.
Combs and brushes should be soaked in rubbing alcohol or Lysol for one hour, or washed with soap and very hot water.
All rugs, furniture, and car seats should be thoroughly vacuumed, and the vacuum bag thrown away in a sealed plastic bag. Over-the-counter lice sprays are available, but should not be used because children can breathe in the toxic fumes. These sprays are not necessary and not worth the health risk.
Links to other information
- 10 Steps To Help Keep Head Lice And Their Eggs Out Of Your Child’s Hair
- Ten Tips for Head Lice & Nit Removal
- Look for Head Lice Poster from the CDC
- Lice information from the CDC
- Head Lice Pictures
- Bed Bugs
Head Lice Brochure (legal size, two-sided)
Head Lice Poster (letter size)