WHERE DO HEAD LICE COME FROM?
Head lice have probably been around since time began. Nits have even been found on the hair of Egyptian mummies when their tombs were opened. They are a human parasite and can only survive on humans, so therefore do not reside in the ground or on pets. Head lice simply travel from host to host. They are not fussy where they live as long as it is clean so they can attach their eggs.
WHAT CAUSES HEAD LICE?
Head lice cannot jump, fly, nor crawl very far. Head lice are extremely well adapted to moving through the hair of their host however. Head lice affect people from all socio-economic classes and all walks of life. Head lice actually prefer clean hair, as greasy hair is difficult for lice to attach their eggs to. Contrary to popular belief, regular washing will not prevent or deter head lice. In fact, it attracts them. Head lice do not infect pets or other animals, as they do not feed on anything but human blood.
WHAT IS A NIT?
Nit is just another name for egg and appears to be palpable for people to say, rather than egg.
WHAT IS THE LIFE CYCLE OF A LOUSE?
Eggs: Nits are head lice eggs. They are cemented at the base of the hair shaft nearest the scalp. Nits take about 1 week to hatch (range 6 to 9 days)
Nymphs: The egg hatches to release a nymph. Nymphs mature after three molts and become adults about 7 days after hatching.
Adults: Adult lice can live up to 30 days on a person’s head. A maximum of 6 to 10 nits are laid each day by each female.
HOW MANY EGGS CAN A HEAD LOUSE LAY IN A DAY?
A single female louse lays eggs twice a day and four to five eggs each time. Multiply that by 10, 20 or even 40 or more lice that might be on the head and it's easy to see how a severe infestation can develop quickly.
WHEN HEAD LICE MOVE FROM ONE HEAD TO ANOTHER, HOW SOON CAN THEY LAY EGGS?
If the head lice are fertilized females, they may begin laying eggs immediately. Head lice generally travel in harems, often consisting of seven or eight females and one male. As females will lay eight to ten eggs daily, a simple case of head lice can escalate very quickly.
HOW LONG DO HEAD LICE LIVE?
An adult head louse can live on a person’s head for up to 30 days. They are not able to survive more than 48 hours off the head. A nit, separated from the head, will die. It needs the warmth of the body to incubate (much like a chicken sitting on an egg).
IS THERE A HEAD LICE SEASON?
It seems that there are more cases of head lice during the school months but this is not because of a lice season. When children have more contact with each other, we see an increase in numbers. Many schools also enforce head lice policies, thereby increasing awareness of the problem.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO GET HEAD LICE FORM OUR CAT OR DOG?
Head lice live and reproduce on human heads only. They are not transmitted by any other animals.
WHO IS AT RISK OF GETTING HEAD LICE?
Everyone is at risk. If you have contact with an infected person, you can get them. Head lice spread more easily among young people because they share their belongings more often than adults and play close together.
It's not true that people get head lice because they're dirty. Head lice are very contagious. No matter how many times you or your child takes a shower or washes his or her hair, it's still possible to get head lice from head-to-head contact with someone who is already infested with lice. You can also get head lice if you share hats, towels, pillows, combs or brushes with someone who has head lice.
DO AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILDREN GET HEAD LICE?
Anyone, including African Americans, can get head lice. They are less likely to get head lice because of the shape of their individual hair strands but they are far from immune.
ARE HEAD LICE MORE PREVALENT IN WARMER CLIMATES?
No. The only difference a warmer climate makes is the lice are more apt to move up and down the hair shaft and lay eggs throughout the hair, while in colder climates, they generally stay closer to the scalp.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HEAD LICE?
Besides itching, symptoms of head lice may include a low-grade fever, swollen glands, a rash at the nape of the neck, bags under the eyes, and feeling tired. Head lice are nocturnal, meaning that they are more active at night than during the day.
IS IT TRUE THAT ITCHING IS THE FIRST SIGN OF HEAD LICE?
Itching is caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva that lice secrete when feeding. The saliva keeps the blood from clotting, making the feeding process easier. About half of those who get head lice are not allergic to the saliva and therefore don’t itch. Even if someone is allergic, it takes approximately two weeks to build up enough lice saliva to cause itching
HOW LONG CAN A PERSON HAVE HEAD LICE BEFORE REALIZING IT?
It is possible to have head lice for years without knowing it, especially if the person does not experience itching. Generally by the time someone identifies head lice, he/she has had head lice for four to eight weeks.
I HEARD THE OVER THE COUNTER AND PERSCRIPTION PRODUCTS CAN BE TOXIC TO MY CHILD?
The EPA is responsible for testing and making sure most pesticide head lice treatments destined for use on US children are safe. However, Pediculicides (lice killing pesticides) are regulated by the FDA which causes confusion: “If the FDA approved it, it must be safe?” This leads many parents to believe (including those who prescribe and sell these medications) that these toxic pesticide products (like roach spray and weed killers) are harmless.
"Preparations like Rid and Kwell ... are definitely toxic to people," says Dr. Andrew Weil, MD. These products contain pediculicides, which are potent pesticides and insecticides designed to poison lice. These products can be absorbed directly into your child’s system through the scalp.
Discussed are some commonly used lice treatments, RID, Kwell and Nix:
Lindane: Used in Kwell prescription-only lice shampoo, lindane is a neurotoxin that is absorbed through the skin. Ann Heil, a senior engineer with the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, "Lindane belongs to the same family of chemicals as DDT and PCBs, which have been banned in the United States." This chemical, which is absorbed through the skin, has been in use since the 1950s. It is created by mixing chlorine gas with benzene and filtering out the particulate solids that result. Chlorine gas is a poison and benzene is a well-known carcinogen. Lindane has been consistently listed in the top chemicals of concern by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. According to the Centennial Edition of the Merck Index, poisoning with lindane may occur by ingestion, inhalation, or skin absorption—all of which are possible with treatment with head lice shampoos. Possible symptoms of lindane poisoning include headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, weakness, convulsions, difficulty breathing, low blood oxygen levels, and circulatory collapse. Case-controlled research shows a significant association between the incidences of brain tumors in children with the use of lindane-containing lice shampoos Lindane, has been banned in more than 50 countries and in California, but is still available in the United States.
Malathion: This toxic pesticide belongs to the class known as organophosphates. It is used in the prescription-only lice remedy “Ovide”. Malathion is a chemical that was developed by the Swiss chemical giant Ciba-Geigy back in the 1950s as an agricultural crop insecticide and for pest control in homes and gardens. Very quickly thereafter, problems began occurring. It turns out that children are especially susceptible to the effects of Malathion. Studies have shown links between regular exposure to Malathion and various human maladies, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, childhood leukemia, anemia, chromosome damage, and weakened immune systems. It has also been known to cause flu like symptoms and allergic reactions in children and adults alike. Malathion exposure can occur through inhalation or absorption through the skin. According to the EPA, this chemical can over stimulate the nervous system and cause nausea, dizziness, confusion, and, at very high exposures (such as those from major spills or accidents), respiratory paralysis and death.
Pyrethrums and Pyrethoids: Pyrethrum is derived from the chrysanthemum flower, yet pyrethrins, used in Nix and Rid lice shampoos, are pesticides that have been deemed dangerous enough to be banned from agricultural use in food production. They may cause pneumonia, muscle paralysis, vomiting, asthma, and death due to respiratory failure. Pyrethroids, the synthetic chemical counterparts used in RID lice treatments may have similar effects. Another common side effect is severe allergic reaction.
WHAT IS THE SHEPHERD METHOD™?
The Shepherd Method™ is a safe, non-toxic, strand-by-strand method of nit removal developed by Katie Shepherd. Shepherd founded Lice Solutions RN, Inc. as a nonprofit 501 (c) 3 tax exempt organization whose mission is to provide community awareness, individual and group screenings and complete nit removal.
HOW CAN I GET RID OF HEAD LICE QUICK?
There is no shortcut. Tedious, time consuming nitpicking and checking everyone who has been in contact with an infestation is the first step toward eliminating head lice. A good comb (when used properly) can eliminate up to 85 percent of the problem. Even when you think you have done the job right, don't let your guard down. The life cycle of lice is three weeks, so keep checking during that time period.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I FIND HEAD LICE ON MY CHILD?
Start treating your child as swiftly as possible. The sooner treatment begins, the less the chance of it escalating or spreading to others. Check family members to make sure the lice haven’t yet spread. Contact the appropriate person at the school and their teacher, your child’s friends’ parents and others he or she has been in close contact with. Don’t be embarrassed! Move quickly in an effort to stop the cycle.
CAN I TREAT IN ADVANCE AS A PRECAUTION?
If one family member has a cold, do you give medicine to everyone? No, you cannot treat in advance. Be aware, check, comb, and only if necessary, treat.
WHAT TYPES OF PRODUCTS SHOULD I LOOK FOR WHEN SHOPPING?
Get a good lice comb. Look for safe, nontoxic products. Products will not eradicate head lice. They are a means of complimenting the tedious task of nit removal.
DOES PUTTING MAYONNAISE OR PETROLEUM JELLY ON YOUR HEAD WORK?
Mayonnaise, Vaseline, olive oil and other remedies are messy alternatives for treating head lice. The goal of these treatments is to drown the lice. Because lice can survive for hours without breathing, these treatments are not very effective. Because mayonnaise needs refrigeration, it is likely it will spoil and could become toxic. One of the above treatments may kill some of the live lice, but none of the products remove the NITS, which eventually become live louses and the cycle continues.
WHY DIDN'T THE PRODUCTS WE BOUGHT AT THE PHARMACY WORK?
Many products available today have been on the market for about thirty years. Because of the span of time they’ve been used and overused, lice have built up a resistance to them.
HOW MUCH CLEANING IS NECESSARY WHEN MY CHILD HAS HEAD LICE?
Concentrate only on items that had direct contact with individuals suffering from head lice during the past 24 hours. Wash clothes and linens in warm water and put in dryer on high heat for at least 20 minutes.
WHAT ABOUT THEIR BRUSHES AND TOYS?
No reason to throw them out put them in a zip lock baggie and put in freezer for 3 – 5 hours.
WHOM SHOULD I NOTIFY IF MY CHILD HAS LICE?
Everyone who has had contact with the child in at least the last two weeks, and preferably, during the past month should be notified. Contacts should include the school nurse, daycare director, camp counselor, or other individuals in the position to assist you in notifying and checking those that your child has had contact with.
WHAT ABOUT MY ELDERLY FAMILY MEMBERS?
Yes, they should be checked if they have been in contact with an individual who has an active infestation. Age does not make you immune from having lice.