Head lice are one of least pleasant insect pests. Other blood-sucking parasites, such as bed bugs, mosquitoes, and fleas disappear after biting you, while the head lice permanently settle in your hair and live there and harass you until you get rid of them: lice eggs will settle at your hair roots and adults will actively crawl through your hair. Do not your waste time on empty expectations of untested treatment!
In this article we’ll provide you with a 5-step manual on how to get rid of head lice and explain to you who are lice, why they are dangerous to humans and how you can get infected. Moreover, we’ll answer the most popular questions about lice: whether they jump, if they can be found in furniture or on a school bus, why they are fonder of straight long hair how they are transmitted, whether it is possible to catch lice while taking a selfie and if it is enough to simply wash your hair regularly to avoid them? We have collected all the useful and important information to help you get rid of lice quickly and effectively, and to never have a relapse. After all, even a couple of nits left on your head are able to start a comeback of a colony of blood-sucking lice.
13 FAQs Before You Start To Get Rid Of Head Lice
Head lice are one of the two forms of blood-sucking parasites species common for humans only. They are small and flat, about ⅛ inch in length, the size of a sesame seed. Their color ranges from grayish white to gray-black. Adult lice have 3 pairs of grasping legs allowing them to firmly grab hair and balance on the head. Lice eggs (or nits) are white and are attached to the hair with a special kind of "glue": a sticky substance exuded by female species. Lice prefer to settle in secret places, such as the occipital region of the head and behind the ears.
These are the basic facts about lice, which are known to everyone, but the behavior of the lice and the harm they cause to humans are surrounded by many myths that need dispelling. We’ll answer the most frequently asked questions related to the behavior of these parasites. Before you start a fight with such an unpleasant enemy, you need to know as much as possible about it!
How do lice live and how quickly do they breed?
A louse is growing for about 3 weeks: it begins at the nit stage, when a female lays the eggs on your head skin by gluing them so tightly to the hair that you won’t be able to wash them off. The larvae hatch within 8-9 days, and they will require about 3 feedings and 10 days to change the skin and eventually become an adult insect. As they live on top of their "food source", there are virtually no delays in their development. As adults, lice immediately begin to breed. As the IPM program in North Carolina State University experts report, adults live from 30 to 40 days, and they need at least 5 portions of blood a day to lay 6-8 eggs per day.
Do lice jump or fly?
They neither jump nor fly. Unlike fleas, they have prehensile paws that are intended only to cling to human hair, but they are not suitable for jumping. Besides, lice have quite a massive body and no wings. All of this would make them extremely vulnerable to parasites ... if they couldn’t crawl. They do it masterfully fast and deftly. As scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln defined it, “they can crawl quickly through the hair at a rate of 9 inches per minute”.
Is it true that poor hygiene can cause head lice if you don’t wash your hair for too long?
No, contrary to popular belief, head lice do not infect humans spontaneously, i.e. through poor hygiene; they can only be transferred from another infected person. But there are other kinds of human lice, which infest more moody and once again the same due to poor personal hygiene and rare change of underwear, such as body lice (read more about them in a separate article).
Can lice breed after being removed from your head?
No, head lice do not live long after being removed from your head! Eggs need to be in constant contact with warm human head and so they die within a few hours after removal. Larvae and adults require blood for timely molting, maintaining life and reproduction, so they also die after about 2 days of being removed. Do not have irrational fears as head lice can only survive while on the host’s head. They do not crawl on carpets, furniture or in vehicles (e.g. a school bus) in search of a new host, but simply die, leaving a person’s head.
You'll find many lice-removal tips in The 5-Step Guide on How to Remove Head Lice
How do you get head lice?
There exist several ways of getting infecting:
Adult lice usually just crawl from one infected person to the head of another, i.e. lice are transmitted with "head-to-head" contact. Lice can manage to quietly crawl even while you kiss or a hug a carrier.
- Rarely lice eggs can be transmitted through sharing personal objects, such as combs, elastic bands, towels, pillow cases etc.
- Nits can be found in the garments. Do not wear someone else's clothes and hats; you could end up being infected!
You can catch lice from anyone who is infected, but the more lice a person has, the more dangerous the contact is. Chance of infecting peaks when a person has adult lice as the larvae never leave their host. If you’re forced to share room with someone who apparently has something crawling through their hair, try to stay away from them.
Can you catch lice while taking a selfie?
Yes, there is a chance as people tend to be head-to-head while taking a selfie, allowing for a perfect route for lice. These parasites need only a few seconds to overcome a 1 inch distance between two people. Therefore it is better not to take selfies with random strangers!
Can you get lice while at home?
Yes, you can. The most common places for adults to catch lice are home and public places. The lice are usually brought by kids from kindergarten or rarely, school or summer camp. In this way couples, families and even neighbors and roommates are considered to be especially at risk as they spend much time quite close to each other.
Can you get lice in transit, Movie Theater or at work?
As for public places, you can easily catch lice in public transit, gym, theater as well as wherever there are strangers around you. Policemen, doctors, social workers and others obliged to contact with strangers are at risk. How do they prevent the disease? They use tea tree oil, read our article about How to Use Tea Tree Oil to Repel Lice.
Is it true that only kids have lice?
Not quite. Lice, indeed, are often found in children aged 3 to 12 years, as they usually spend a lot of time together in groups. It is piece of cake for lice to crawl from one head to another. In kindergarten the children play together and nap next to each other. So if lice infested one child, we can give you an almost 100% guarantee that soon everyone will be infected. In addition, young children often do not seek the causes of itching of their heads and do not complain about it, they just comb. Therefore, regular medical examinations of children for head lice must be carried out in schools and kindergartens. But adults can also be infected as absolutely no one is immune.
Do people with straight long hair get lice more easily?
Yes, hygiene, type and length of the hair have to do with infection. But, as we’ve mentioned before, the lice don’t come to dirt, in this case hygiene has a much unexpected effect. Lice are not selective and can infect anyone, but it is believed that they would rather settle in clean, long and straight hair, the roots of which are washed from grease, dust and skin flakes (!) as such hair is easier for them to cling to.
Why do they prefer straight hair? Different types of hair (straight, wavy and curly) have various cross section and number of hair shafts. So, straight hair has a circular cross section and a single shaft which facilitates catching lice. Therefore, according to the information from NC State University IPM program, “African-American children get head lice much less frequently than children of other backgrounds do, apparently because of a difference in the structure of the hair shaft”.
Why do they like long hair? Often they are let down instead of put up which makes it easier for lice to climb the hair and settle near the roots. It is also believed that stressed people are more likely to suffer from lice as apparently they worry more often which is attractive for lice.
Is it possible to determine the period of infection at a glance?
It’s virtually impossible. If you happened to notice plenty of lice on your head, then obviously, you’ve been a carrier for a long time. Let us remind you that a generation of lice requires about 3 weeks to become adult and to multiply.
Also bear in mind that usually the nits are white, but when the hatching time draws close, they become brownish. Nits of such color mean that larvae are about to hatch.
Can you catch lice from your pets: cats and dogs?
No, pets have other types of lice which are peculiar to them and are not transmitted to human beings or other species. Cat lice, for instance, won’t feed on human, dog or other blood. Head lice cannot in turn infect anyone other than humans and certain types of apes.
Why are Lice Harmful for Humans?
Head lice are not known to transmit any infectious diseases from person to person - this fact is proved by scientists from University of California Statewide IPM Program.
But pediculosis is a classic disease which is most spread and caused by head lice activity. According to the Food and Drug Administration, 6-12 million USA citizens encounter head lice annually. The disease affects human skin, hair, and the blood system, as adult lice feed on human blood and stick their eggs to human hair. This usually results in strong itching, scratched skull, horrible appearance and “contamination” stigma.
The devil of pediculosis is that it only shows itself within 2-3 weeks of contamination. You can have an entire lice population living on your head and have no clue about it, as the pests haven’t started their action yet. Apart from pediculosis, a secondary bacterial infection is another threat caused by lice. According to the same old HNG, it occurs when the scratches on your skin become too deep. Allergic people can also end up with fever, dizziness and nausea as the bites are rather allergic. There is also a correlation between lice bites and cervical lymph nodes enlargement.
According to the New York Health Department experts, pediculosis never goes away just like that, like a cold or a migraine. Lice will gnaw your head until you decide to get rid of them. To make it worse, more and more pests will be there on your head with each month, and along with them you’ll see the most noticeable signs of an emergency, such as scratches on your head, neck and around the ears.
A 5-Step Guide to Getting Rid Of Lice
If you understand how lice appear and breed, it becomes clear that being lousy at getting rid of them or not finishing the job will be dangerous. Even a couple of nits on your head are able to re-create the colony of bloodsucking lice on your head. Don’t hurry to shave your head, though, especially if your hair is long. It’s a very radical solution and it will only do for brutal men or small children. Don’t sacrifice your hair as it is enough to be consistent and patient and to use proper treatment in order to get rid of lice. Here are 5 steps to follow.
Step 1: Head Inspection
In this case, invasion is the presence of live adult lice, larvae and young white (or brown) nits. Look for all possible signs of head lice, exploring all areas of the scalp. Pay special attention to the back of the head and the area behind the ears. Not only the infected people, but also those who have had close contact with them are subject to the inspection. So hiding the fact that someone has lice is a very bad idea! If you or your child has head lice, you are not to blame, don’t be ashamed to let others know about the incident.
Step 2: Preparing the Instruments You Need to Get Rid of Lice
To get rid of head lice you’ll need a pediculicide shampoo, a special comb for combing lice nits and adult species and oil (tea tree, olive), which facilitate combing. Simply washing your head with regular shampoo does not solve the problem; it will simply waste your time! Lice get stuck to the hair too hard! It is better to use this treatment in package to ensure you get rid of all head lice, be it adults, larvae or nits.
Apart from these items, you might require such supplementary things as nail scissors, cloth, a bowl of water, magnifying glass and an ordinary comb.
Step 3: Shampooing
Using a pediculicide shampoo is the first step of treating your head from head lice. Getting rid of adult lice largely depends on the effectiveness of the shampoo (this is not so true for the nits). That’s why you might start thinking about active ingredients which are proven to have pediculicide effect. What should you look for while checking out the shampoo? Read more about the best shampoos and their active ingredients in our article about head lice treatment.
Step 4: Combing Lice Eggs (Nits) Using Nit Comb
As we’ve said, shampoo does not help get rid of all the eggs as some of them will still survive and become larvae. Therefore, in addition to the repeat use of shampoo, you need to use a mechanical treatment method, i.e.to comb all the hair, strand by strand, with special frequent fine-toothed metal comb which can even be electric. But do not relax after the procedure: to achieve the best effect you need to perform the procedure on a daily basis on everyone who is infected for at least a week to make sure that not a single egg was missed. What is the best comb? Find popular nit combs - from conventional to electric ones in “How to get rid of lice eggs (nits)? Best lice combs”.
Step 5: Cleaning and Washing
The two key measures to take while eliminating head lice are shampoo treatment and combing. Since the lice don’t survive long after being removed, house cleaning won’t directly affect pediculosis epidemic you have. You need it rather for maintaining good hygiene (to remove louse feces and dead nits) and peace of mind. You are supposed to wash the clothes and vacuum clean your accommodation.
- Wash bed linen, towels and clothes of an infected person in hot water (140º at least). Special attention should also be paid to hats and outerwear. It will be even better to dry all clothes in a hot dryer after washing, and then to iron them with a hot iron. If clothes cannot be laundered, dry clean them.
- Vacuum clean your bed, furniture upholstery and carpets where hairs with nits could be left. Don’t neglect any items which could have touched the head, such as car seats.
Don’t be fanatic; the mentioned measures will be sufficient for living in a house after recovery. There is no need to wash furniture and household objects with insecticides; you’d better spend more time on a daily hair combing. However, despite the fact that no insecticide treatment is required, natural lice sprays for furniture and bedding are popular on Amazon.com. They are used by some particularly scrupulous people who want to attain perfect cleanliness and 100% guarantee of getting rid of lice in the house: check it out at Amazon.com.
How to Get Rid of Lice – INFOGRAPHIC
Head lice, these blood-sucking insects, are any parent’s nightmare. This is no wonder since most often it is the kids from 3 to 12 years who suffer from them the most.
Your child returned from a school or camp. Are there an awful itching and scratches on head, neck and around the ears? It’s lice! Don’t panic!
Here is a 5-Step Strategy of Removing Head Lice and Nits. Lice are malicious, so please do read the entire article as every step and every detail is crucial when it comes to eliminating lice. In order to provide you with authentic information, we have consulted a friend of ours (who is an MD) and have studied the opinions of scientists and doctors.