Head Lice — Life Cycle, Types, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention
Head Lice – Life Cycle, Types, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention
- 1 Head Lice – Life Cycle, Types, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention
- 2 What are Lice?
- 3 Types of Lice Infestation
- 4 Life Cycle of Lice
- 5 Symptoms of Head Lice
- 6 People at Risk
- 7 Treatment of Head Lice
- 8 Prevention of Head Lice
- 9 The Ultimate Guide to Lice Treatments
- 10 Rethinking Effective Lice Treatment
- 11 What are Head Lice?
- 12 How Common are Lice?
- 13 How Do I Know My Child has Lice?
- 14 A Better Path to Eliminating Lice
- 15 It’s Time for Safe, Non-Toxic Solutions
- 16 Non-Toxic Lice Treatment (Research-Backed)
- 17 The Lice are Gone? Prevent Another Infestation!
- 18 Spartacus Educational
- 19 Primary Sources
What are Lice?
Lice are tiny gray-brown insects that live, grow, and feed on humans as parasites. It feeds on the host’s blood by piercing the skin of the host with its narrow anterior mouth parts. Lice may spread from one person to another through close contact or by sharing personal items and clothing. Dogs, cats, or other household pets are not involved in the transmission of human lice.
The most common type of lice infestation is head lice. Head lice infestation, though extremely unpleasant and embarrassing, does not help in spreading other diseases, or cause serious health problems. Lice infestation should be treated aggressively so as to get rid of the problem as well as to prevent recurrence.
Types of Lice Infestation
Lice infestation or pediculosis is a very common problem all over the world. There are 3 types of lice infestations.
- Head lice or pediculosis capitis is caused by Pediculus humanus capitis. This is a common problem, particularly among school children. The lice are tiny insects, about 3 mm long, with legs that are specially adapted to cling onto hair shafts. It lays eggs (nits) at the base of the hair fibers. The nits bind firmly to the scalp hairs and appear white when empty. Head lice are usually spread by close head-to-head contact and sharing hair grooming items.
- Body lice or pediculosis corporis is caused by Pediculus humanus corporis. These live, grow, and lay eggs in the seams of clothing. It is found on the body only when it feeds.
- Pubic lice, crab lice, or pediculosis pubis is caused by Phthiriasis pubis. These affect the pubic hairs and are usually sexually transmitted. The eyebrows, eyelashes, axillae (armpits), facial hair, chest hair, and very rarely the scalp hair may be involved in this type of lice infestation.
Life Cycle of Lice
There are 3 stages in the life cycle of the head louse – nit (egg), nymph, and adult. Once mating occurs, a female louse can lay around 50 to 100 eggs at the rate of 6 per day. The eggs are laid at the base of the hair shaft and are bound firmly to the hair by a glue-like substance till it hatches into nymphs, in about 6 to 10 days.
A louse reaches full maturity at around 10 days after hatching. The adult louse feeds about 5 times a day. It injects saliva which is an irritant to the skin and feeds by sucking blood. The lifespan of a female louse is about 1 month. The head lice will die within 2 days if it cannot feed on a human host.
Symptoms of Head Lice
The common symptoms are :
- Intense itching of the scalp, usually due to allergic reaction to lice bite. This occurs more frequently at night when the lice feed. Read more on other causes of itchy scalp.
- Tickling sensation when the lice move.
- Irritation of the scalp, especially a night.
- Reddish eruptions and sores on the head, especially on the nape of the neck.
People at Risk
- Head lice infestation is most common in pre-school and school children.
- Family members of such children are most likely to be affected as well.
- Anybody coming in close contact with another person suffering from head lice or sharing personal effects such as combs and clothing, may become infected as well.
- Contrary to popular belief, head lice do not occur due to poor hygiene, or only in people of low socio-economic status.
- Women are more likely to get head lice than men.
Treatment of Head Lice
To effectively treat head lice, the person infested as well as all close contacts, especially family members, with similar infestation should be treated simultaneously.
- Pediculicides are medications that kill head lice – over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription products can be used to treat head lice. It is important to follow the instructions closely. Resistance to treatment has become a problem.
- OTC products include shampoos containing pyrethrin or permethrin.
- Prescription medication, such as malathion, may be used when OTC products are ineffective. Malathion is more toxic and should be used with caution in pregnant and breastfeeding women.
- Lindane is not used as the first line of treatment because of its extreme toxicity.
- Ivermectin, a prescription drug, may be given orally in some resistant cases.
- In some cases, meticulous combing may be the only option for removal of head lice.
- Another option is application of benzyl alcohol lotion to the hair. This is usually kept on for about 10 minute and then rinsed off. Treatment is repeated after a week. Benzyl alcohol lotion is less toxic than the other pediculicides and may be used even in children 6 months or older.
- Calamine lotion and antihistamines in case of allergic reactions.
- Insecticides should not be used as prophylaxis (for prevention) of head lice.
- Head shaving may be considered when all other methods fail. The shaved off hair should be collected carefully in a plastic bag, sealed, and thrown in the garbage.
- After completion of treatment, pillows, bed sheets, towels, and clothing should be washed in hot water to kill lice. Combs and brushes should be soaked in hot water for over 5 minutes.
- Carpets, couches and other soft furnishing in the house should be vacuumed thoroughly.
Prevention of Head Lice
It may be difficult to prevent head lice in school-going children. Educating the child regarding sharing of combs and brushes may help minimally since lice spreads more often by direct head-to-head contact. Personal hygiene is not related to lice infestation. Being alert and taking immediate action if nits or lice are found on the hair can prevent further spread.
The Ultimate Guide to Lice Treatments
Getting Rid of Head Lice Quickly and Safely
Rethinking Effective Lice Treatment
Up to 12 million children contract lice annually in the U.S.
Up to 24 million school days in the U.S. are lost to head lice each year
70% of the OTC treatment shampoos & ointments contain the highly toxic Permethrin
What are Head Lice?
Head lice are small insects that live on the human scalp, feeding on blood several times a day. These parasites make small bites in the scalp to feed and live off of human hosts. The bites don’t hurt, but lice excrete a substance to prevent the blood from clotting, which can cause severe itching and allergic reactions. Without a host to feed on, lice will die within 1 to 2 days.
How Common are Lice?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that up to twelve million children aged 3 to 12 contract lice in the United States each year.
Pediatrics, the Official Journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics, cites studies that claim as many as 24 million days of school annually are lost to lice infestations and schools’ “no nit” policies. The economic burden for parents is mounting, too; pharmacotherapy alone costs the United States economy $240 million annually and experts estimate direct and indirect costs may be as high as $1 billion per year!
How Do I Know My Child has Lice?
Dandruff, dry scalp or that odd substance your child gets on his or herself after crawling through bushes sure can mimic a lice infestation, so it’s important to check for symptoms! The most common symptom of a lice infestation is itchiness, as lice bites cause an allergic reaction which causes the itch.
Other symptoms include:
- Red bumps on the head, neck and shoulders
- Difficulty sleeping, as lice are most active at night
- Swollen lymph nodes, which can be caused by the infections from the bites
Still not sure? You can always take your child to their pediatrician for a check-up. Alternatively, try shining a bright light onto your child’s scalp. The lice appear as brown, sesame-seed-sized insects crawling on the scalp; the nits are small and white. They are usually close to the scalp and appear to be stuck to individual hairs.
A Better Path to Eliminating Lice
«Your child has lice! Please come and collect them.”
You just got off the phone with your child’s school. You’re trying not to freak out. You’re feeling itchy – is that just your imagination, or could you have lice, too?
Before you panic, remember: lice are an all too common nightmare for American parents. Children play in close quarters, which is just what lice need to jump from one child to the next, no matter how clean they are! In fact, lice love clean hair. Lice aren’t dangerous, either – just annoying! They don’t do any real damage and don’t carry diseases.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics † has already called for schools to end “no nit” policies. They state that head lice are a nuisance, but not a serious disease or sign of poor hygiene. They further find that these policies are unjust toward otherwise-healthy children.
However, for now, lice still keep your child out of school and, well, make your family downright miserable! So, what do you do when you detect lice? Kill them as quickly as possible!
Here’s the problem: lice are common in children, yet many lice treatment products on the market are toxic – 60% of over-the-counter treatment shampoos and ointments contain the highly toxic ingredient Permethrin, which can have some nasty side effects.
In addition to side effects, research published in the Journal of Medical Entomology †† found that head lice in 42 states are 100 percent resistant to these over-the-counter treatments. So not only will your child face negative side effects – the treatment might not even work!
It’s Time for Safe, Non-Toxic Solutions
Why would any parent put such harmful substances on their child’s head? Luckily, there’s a better way, and to that end, this guide to lice treatment is here to help you eliminate lice quickly, safely and reliably – without killing any of your child’s neurons!
Non-Toxic Lice Treatment (Questionable Effectiveness)
Coating your hair with mayonnaise may be non-toxic, but it probably isn’t effective (for anything other than smelling like a sandwich, anyway).
Mayonnaise and other home remedy treatments are understandably popular among parents, but most are unproven when it comes to effectiveness.
Home remedy treatments work the same way: they’re designed to suffocate or smother the lice.
Treatments may include coating the hair with things like:
Unfortunately, these treatments don’t get rid of eggs, commonly called “nits.” These nits take 6 to 9 days ††† to hatch into nymphs. So that mayonnaise may smother the full-grown lice, but new ones will hatch in a week!
Plus, lice can last 6-hours without air. Your child probably won’t sit still that long, and you may end up with mayonnaise all over your house!
Tea tree oil is another common non-toxic lice treatment. Lice are repulsed by the smell; unfortunately, the oil doesn’t send them packing if they’re already present.
Unfortunately, lice have become immune to the active lice-fighting ingredient, anticholinesterase, which is found in many pesticides. Tea tree oil should therefore only be used to prevent lice – not treat them.
Non-Toxic Lice Treatment (Research-Backed)
Luckily, there are other non-toxic lice treatments! Let’s look at a couple of options that have been backed by research:
Non-toxic dimethicone shampoos are silicone-based. The lubricant coats the lice, which prevents them from getting the air they need to survive.
Dimethicone does not kill the nits, but it does make them much easier to comb out of hair. However, the treatment does not always kill all the live lice the first time, so the shampoo must be used at least a few days in a row. Though not severe, repetitive use has led to cases of mild skin irritation.
Enzyme lice treatments for kids usually come in the form of shampoos. They are designed to disable and kill lice by mimicking their own molting enzymes and dissolving their exoskeletons. They also work to loosen the nit “glue” which sticks the eggs to the hair, making the eggs easier to remove.
Unfortunately, this sort of treatment doesn’t kill the eggs; it just makes it easier for you to comb them out of your child’s hair. Treatment is still a two-step process: shampoo, then comb, and repeat every day until the lice and eggs are gone.
Lice combs have been used for years as a part of treatment regimens for infestations. The regular, old-fashioned steel lice comb is a simple, very fine-toothed comb which is run through hair to capture the nits (lice eggs). This method is most effective after using a shampoo or similar treatment to kill the live lice.
Electric Lice Combs
No, this isn’t a science fiction novel – you can electrocute lice! Electric lice combs are safe and non-toxic. The lice will be stunned or electrocuted, but your child will not, thanks to the rubber guards on the comb!
These combs can be used on dry hair of all types with little fuss – including thick hair, which proves to be a problem for other lice treatments! And because the an electric lice comb such as the RobiComb® doesn’t require any shampoos or smelly solutions, there’s no need for any messy clean-up!
The RobiComb® can also be used on every member of the family, making it an affordable method of lice treatment. One comb for the whole family instead of bottles and bottles of shampoo!
Non-toxic lice treatment is a priority for most concerned parents. This is the magic combination if you want an infestation cleared up as quickly as possible! The RobiComb® is the best-selling lice comb on the market.
Steel Lice Combs
Steel lice combs are cheap and easy to use on fine and straight hair – and they’re chemical-free! Experts say these metal combs are better than their plastic alternatives †††† because the teeth of the comb are narrower and more rigid, thus trapping eggs more efficiently. Those with thick or curly hair may find these combs challenging, however.
For best results, rinse the comb after each pass through the hair to ensure the eggs don’t get put back in! Keep combing for 8-10 days until you don’t see any lice or eggs left.
Vacuum combs are another chemical-free solution and work exactly like your home vacuum – they suck up the living lice and the nits into a collection bag! (The lice are still alive in the vacuum, so if you’re squeamish, you may look for another solution!)
However, they are noisy, which can bother children; and they can be difficult and even painful to use on thick hair.
No matter what sort of comb you choose, you’ll have to use the comb every day, for several days. Some combs are more effective than others, but the majority of them struggle to kill the nit eggs, which means it’s essential that you repeat the treatment until all the nits are gone. With a little persistence, you’ll have your child back to school in no time!
The Lice are Gone? Prevent Another Infestation!
You spent a good amount of time and effort getting rid of the lice – the last thing you want is for them to come back! Thankfully, there are preventative measures you can take to protect your child, and family, from another lice infestation.
First things first: you don’t have to deep clean your entire house! Lice are not like fleas; they can’t fly or jump, nor can they lurk in your furniture. Lice can’t live without a human host for more than three days, so there’s no need to dry clean your curtains!
Instead, do the following:
- Sterilize all hairbrushes. Clean out any hair and soak in boiling water.
- Look for any hats, clothes, or accessories your child has worn in the last three days. These should be washed and if possible, dried for 30 minutes in a machine dryer.
- Wash bed linens and blankets. Put pillows and stuffed animals in the dryer on high heat, too.
- If there are other soft furnishings your child’s head has been in contact with in the last three days, vacuum and lint-roll those surfaces (including car headrests).
- If an item can’t go in the dryer, another option is to put it in the freezer overnight, then wipe it clean!
- Treat everyone in the family, even if they show no signs of lice! The critters are far more likely to have ended up in your hair than on your couch.
If there are too many items to clean or items you can’t fit in the dryer or the freezer, don’t sweat! Just don’t touch them for three days. Any lurking lice will die without human contact. And they won’t lay eggs anywhere else!
A lice infestation doesn’t have to cause shame or panic. It’s a very common occurrence in households with school children. Not to mention lice prefer clean hair, so congratulations – you probably have great hygiene! So, take a breath and follow the steps above when getting rid of lice. Your household will be back to normal in no time!
Men in the trenches suffered from lice. One soldier writing after the war described them as «pale fawn in colour, and they left blotchy red bite marks all over the body.» They also created a sour; stale smell. Various methods were used to remove the lice. A lighted candle was fairly effective but the skill of burning the lice without burning your clothes was only learnt with practice. George Coppard described how this worked: «The things lay in the seams of trousers, in the deep furrows of long thick woolly pants, and seemed impregnable in their deep entrenchments. A lighted candle applied where they were thickest made them pop like Chinese crackers. After a session of this, my face would be covered with small blood spots from extra big fellows which had popped too vigorously.»
In his autobiography, Harry Patch explains the problems he had with lice on the Western Front: «The lice were the size of grains of rice, each with its own bite, each with its own itch. When we could, we would run hot wax from a candle down the seams of our trousers, our vests — whatever you had — to burn the buggers out. It was the only thing to do. Eventually, when we got to Rouen, coming back, they took every stitch off us and gave us a suit of sterilised blue material. And the uniforms they took off, they burned them — to get rid of the lice.»
Where possible the army arranged for the men to have baths in huge vats of hot water while their clothes were being put through delousing machines. Unfortunately, this rarely worked. A fair proportion of the eggs remained in the clothes and within two or three hours of the clothes being put on again a man’s body heat had hatched them out.
At the Passchendaele Lieutenant Robert Sherriff described his men going into battle: «At dawn on the morning of the attack, the battalion assembled in the mud outside the huts. I lined up my platoon and went through the necessary inspection. Some of the men looked terribly ill: grey, worn faces in the dawn, unshaved and dirty because there was no clean water. I saw the characteristic shrugging of their shoulders that I knew so well. They hadn’t had their clothes off for weeks, and their shirts were full of lice.»
Lieutenant John Reith was very successful in dealing with lice. According to his diary: «No lice had so far come my way, but I was always in fear of them. On going into trenches I used to spray about a gallon of lysol over my bunk below the parapet and generally about the hut; now, with the receipt from home of a box of mercurial ointment, I took for the first time to wearing my identity disc, drawing the string through the ointment. I had heard that this was a louse deterrent. It made one’s neck dirty but there was never a louse found.»
As well as causing frenzied scratching, lice also carried disease. This was known as pyrrexhia or trench fever. The first symptoms were shooting pains in the shins and was followed by a very high fever. Although the disease did not kill, it did stop soldiers from fighting and accounted for about 15% of all cases of sickness in the British Army.
(1) Henry Gregory of 119th Machine Gun company was interviewed after the war about life in the trenches.
When we arrived in the trenches we got a shock when the other soldiers in the hut took their shirts off after tea. They were catching lice. We had never seen a louse before, but they were here in droves. The men were killing them between their nails. When they saw us looking at this performance with astonishment, one of the men remarked, «You will soon be as lousy as we are chum!» They spent the better part of an hour in killing lice and scratching themselves. We soon found out that this took the better part of an hour daily. Each day brought a new batch; as fast as you killed them, others took their place.
One night, as we lay in bed after doing our two hours’ sentry — we did two hours on and two hours off — my friend Jock said ‘damn this, I cannot stand it any longer!’ He took off his tunic — we slept in these — then he took off his jersey, then his shirt. He put his shirt in the middle of the dug-out floor and put his jersey and tunic on again. As we sat up in bed watching the shirt he had taken off and put it on the floor it actually lifted; it was swarming with lice.
(2) Isaac Rosenberg, The Immortals (1918)
I killed them, but they would not die.
Yea! all the day and all the night
For them I could not rest or sleep,
Nor guard from them nor hide in flight.
Then in my agony I turned
And made my hands red in their gore.
In vain — for faster than I slew
They rose more cruel than before.
I killed and killed with slaughter mad;
I killed till all my strength was gone.
And still they rose to torture me,
For Devils only die in fun.
I used to think the Devil hid
In womens smiles and wines carouse.
I called him Satan, Balzebub.
But now I call him, dirty louse.
(3) Private Stuart Dolden wrote about his experiences in the trenches after the war.
We had to sleep fully dressed, of course, this was very uncomfortable with the pressure of ammunition on one’s chest restricted breathing; furthermore, when a little warmth was obtained the vermin used to get busy, and for some unexplained reason they always seemed to get lively in the portion of one’s back, that lay underneath the belt and was the most inaccessible spot. The only way to obtain relief was to get out of the dugout, put a rifle barrel between the belt and rub up and down like a donkey at a gatepost. This stopped it for a bit, but as soon as one got back into the dugout, and was getting reasonably warm so would the little brutes get going again.
(4) Private George Coppard, With A Machine Gun to Cambrai (1969)
A full day’s rest allowed us to clean up a bit, and to launch a full scale attack on lice. I sat in a quiet corner of a barn for two hours delousing myself as best I could. We were all at it, for none of us escaped their vile attentions. The things lay in the seams of trousers, in the deep furrows of long thick woolly pants, and seemed impregnable in their deep entrenchments. A lighted candle applied where they were thickest made them pop like Chinese crackers. After a session of this, my face would be covered with small blood spots from extra big fellows which had popped too vigorously. Lice hunting was called ‘chatting’. In parcels from home it was usual to receive a tin of supposedly death-dealing powder or pomade, but the lice thrived on the stuff.
(5) Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (1929)
In the interval between stand-to and breakfast, the men who were not getting in a bit of extra sleep sat about talking and smoking, writing letters home, cleaning their rifles, running their thumb-nails up the seams of their shirts to kill lice, gambling. Lice were a standing joke. Young Bumford handed me one: «We was just having an argument as to whether it’s best to kill the old ones or the young ones, sir. Morgan here says that if you kill the old ones, the young ones die of grief; but Parry here, sir, he says that the young ones are easier to kill and you can catch the old ones when they go to the funeral.» He appealed to me as an arbiter: «You’ve been to college, sir, haven’t you?»
(6) John Reith, Wearing Spurs (1966)
No lice had so far come my way, but I was always in fear of them. On going into trenches I used to spray about a gallon of lysol over my bunk below the parapet and generally about the hut; now, with the receipt from home of a box of mercurial ointment, I took for the first time to wearing my identity disc, drawing the string through the ointment. I had heard that this was a louse deterrent. It made one’s neck dirty but there was never a louse found.
(7) Robert Sherriff , No Leading Lady (1968)
At dawn on the morning of the attack, the battalion assembled in the mud outside the huts. I lined up my platoon and went through the necessary inspection. Some of the men looked terribly ill: grey, worn faces in the dawn, unshaved and dirty because there was no clean water. I saw the characteristic shrugging of their shoulders that I knew so well. They hadn’t had their clothes off for weeks, and their shirts were full of lice.
(8) Harry Patch, Last Post (2005)
Lice. We were lousy. The lice were the size of grains of rice, each with its own bite, each with its own itch. When we could, we would run hot wax from a candle down the seams of our trousers, our vests — whatever you had — to burn the buggers out. It was the only thing to do. Eventually, when we got to Rouen, coming back, they took every stitch off us and gave us a suit of sterilised blue material. And the uniforms they took off, they burned them — to get rid of the lice. For the four months I was in France I never had a bath, and I never had any clean clothes to put on. Nothing.
(9) Henry Allingham, Last Post (2005)
We all got lice in our clothes. We used to run the seam of the shirt over a candle flame to get rid of them. Of course, you’d wash your shirt if you could — and when you did wash it, you’d hang it on a bit of line. Next thing you’d see was the lice crawling along the line.
(10) Harriet Hyman Alonso, Robert E. Sherwood The Playwright in Peace and War (2007)
Robert Sherwood’s main trench annoyance was lice, another constant among soldiers. Filthy, wet clothing welcomed these pests, where they lodged in seams and caused constant itching. Many men also had head lice, which drove them to shave their heads, for no matter how often they washed and deloused their clothing and hair with creosote and carbolic soap, as Bobby did, they could not remove the louse eggs, which quickly hatched, starting the cycle all over again. Other trench annoyances included frogs, horned beetles, and slugs, which proliferated in the hospitable muddy environment.