Head Lice

Head Lice

September 02, 2002|by Christine L. Moats

Q: What are head lice?

A: Pediculosis or head lice are tiny, wingless bugs about the size of a sesame seed or smaller. They have six legs with tiny claws and live only on human scalps. Head lice can range in color from light brown to gray. While annoying, head lice are not life threatening.

Q: How are head lice spread?

A: September is national head lice prevention month. According to the National Pediculosis Association (NPA) head lice are spread when there is direct contact with the head or hair of an infected individual. Head lice can be spread if the following items are shared as well: hats, towels, brushes, helmets, hair ties, etc. It is also possible for head lice to be spread via a pillow, headrest, or similar item. Head lice are not able to jump or fly.

Head lice can survive on a human host for approximately 30 days. They generally do not survive more than 24 hours off the host. A female louse lays up to 3-5 eggs per day. It takes 7-10 days for the louse to mature and lay their own eggs.


Q: What are some tips for treating lice?

A: The following methods together work to treat lice infestation.

  • Apply an over-the-counter pediculicide that contains permethrin or pyrethrins. Treat according ot label directions. If lice persist, consult a physician. There are prescription treatments.

  • Change and launder pillow cases, pajamas, towels.

  • Vacuum to remove lice or fallen hairs with attached nits from upholstered furniture, rugs, stuffed animals and cars. It is not necessary to bag items such as stuffed animals. Lice are human parasites and require human blood to survive.

  • The National Pediculosis Association (NPA) recommends that individuals with pre-existing conditions, including but not limited to epilepsy, asthma, brain tumors, cancer or AIDS, should not use any chemicals designed to kill or destroy head lice. Pregnant or nursing women should avoid chemical lice treatments for use on themselves or for applying them to others. Consult your physician.

  • You can put clothes, hats, towels, etc in a hot dryer for 20 minutes which should kill lice and their eggs.


Christine L. Moats is wellness coordinator for Washington County Hospital.

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