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Head Lice

Have you noticed your school going daughter scratching her head continuously? If yes, it may be a sign she has a head lice infestation. These wingless insects don’t need any introduction.

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They are known by mother’s around the world. If you are interested in gathering more information regarding head lice, the following paragraphs will prove to be a useful read.

What are Head Lice?

Head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) are insects that live in human hair. They are wingless creatures that are gray-brown in color. They cannot fly, jump or swim, but can crawl. They come under the group of obligate parasites that infect humans. Head lice tends to spend its entire life feeding on the blood of its host. Lice cannot burrow in the scalp of the host.

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Head lice do not spread any diseases, but are very contagious in nature. They spread by climbing onto the hair of person-to-person on close contact. Once the lice gets on a new host, it will lay tiny, white eggs on that stick to the hair. A female lice can lay about 5 eggs every day! These eggs stick to the hair with the help of a glue that is secreted by the female. The eggs are called as ‘nits’.

How Does One Become Infected With Head Lice?

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Head lice are very common in children in the age group of 4 to 14 years. They spread by close head to head contact. Children with an infestation soon spread the lice to their parents and siblings. A head lice takes about 30 seconds to get transferred from one head to another. Head lice only infects humans and cannot be transferred to animals or vice versa. They cannot survive for more than 2 days away from the human scalp. Head lice are very common in people who do not maintain personal hygiene.

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How Does One Recognize Head Lice Infestation?

The infested head is itchy. Thus, you will find the child always itching and scratching his/her head. If you look at the scalp, you will find there are eggs sticking to the hair shafts, about 1 cm away from the scalp. Many dry, empty egg cases will also be observed away from the scalp. Tiny, white nymphs or immature lice crawling on the scalp. You may find large, sesame seed sized, gray-brown lice in the hair. One may even observe large, dark specs on pillow cases, especially light-colored cases. These dark specs are head lice droppings.

The child may also suffer from scratch marks on the scalp. Large infestation may cause crusting of the scalp, tiny pink bumps and a smelly scalp.

How Does One Detect Head Lice?

Under good lighting conditions, detangle hair. Use a lice detector comb that is available at any convenience store or pharmacy. Start from the edge of the scalp, the tooth of the comb touching the scalp. Slowly, draw the comb out of the hair tips. Check the comb after each stroke for the presence of any trapped lice or nits. If  lice are found, better dispose it off by killing it using your nails or flushing them down the drain.

How Does One Treat Head Lice?

Treatment for head lice involves physically removing the lice and nits using detection combs and fingers. Other than that, one can use insecticides that are approved for treatment of head lice. These are medicated shampoos that contain pyrethrin, permethrin and lindane. One should keep in mind, lindane is toxic to humans and should not be used without doctors prescription and on children under the age of two years.

Shampoo hair with the product you choose according to the instructions on the bottle. Rinse hair properly and make sure no traces of the medicated shampoo remain in the hair or on the scalp. After drying hair, make sure you run the detection comb all through the hair. This will help remove any remaining lice living or dead from the scalp. Repeat the procedure after a week or so.

Prevention Of Head Lice

Some of the preventive measures for head lice include:

Tying up long hair tightly in plate or ponytail. Make sure no hair is left loose as it will be easy for the lice to climb in.

Wash hair regularly and detangle them to make sure they remain manageable and neat

Check hair for lice once a week to prevent a full-blown infestation.

It is very difficult to prevent head lice. However, being alert about the first sign of head lice infestation will help prevent it from turning into a difficult and hard to get rid of the situation. Head lice don’t cause infections, but are very irritating and embarrassing. Quick action is the only way to ensure these tiny vampires do not invade the scalp of your loved ones again.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta

Date last updated: February 23, 2015

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