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Head Lice Information

December 19, 2019

What are head lice?
Head lice are very small, less than 1/8-inch long, tan colored insects that live on the human head. They live and lay their eggs, called nits, close to the scalp. The nits are tiny and are gray, white or brown. The nits are firmly cemented to the hair shaft.


Who can get head lice?
Anyone can get head lice. They are not a sign of being dirty and do not reflect poorly upon parents. Head lice are a common problem any place where there are groups of children, such as child care settings and schools.


What are the symptoms of head lice?
Itching and scratching of the scalp and neck is usually the first sign that head lice are present. The areas most often affected are behind the ears and the back of the neck. If lice or nits are found on the head of one person in a household, the heads of all household members should be checked. Look for crawling lice in the hair near the scalp and nits glued to the hair shafts. They are usually found within 1/2 inch of the scalp and most often on hair at the back of the head in the neck region. 


When do the symptoms appear?
It may take two to three weeks before the intense itching is noticed.


How are head lice spread?
Head lice are passed from person to person by direct contact, on shared personal items (combs, brushes, hats, scarves, sports headgear, jackets and other clothing) or by contact with infested bedding, furniture, or carpeting. Head lice do not fly or jump. They crawl and can fall off the head. Lice do not usually live longer than 48 hours off the head. They only lay their eggs while on the head. It is unlikely that the nits will hatch into insects after they have fallen off the head. Lice do not spread to pets, and you cannot get them from pets.


What is the treatment for head lice?
The Iowa Department of Public Health recommends a 14-day treatment process. You may use over-the-counter products. They are both safe and not costly. The process is: Write down the day you saw head lice. On Day 1: Wash hair with over-the-counter medicated head lice shampoo. Read and follow all directions on the shampoo. Day 2: COMB ONLY, DO NOT WASH. Days 3-9: Wash the hair using your regular shampoo. Rinse. Apply hair conditioner to make the hair slippery. COMBthe hair the entire length from the scalp to end of hair. Wipe the comb between each stroke with a paper towel. Wiping the comb removes any lice or nits. Keep hair wet while combing. COMB hair at least 15-20 minutes. COMB all of hair. Day 10: Wash hair with over-the-counter medicated head-lice shampoo. Read and follow all directions on the shampoo. Day 11: COMB ONLY, DO NOT WASH. Days 12-14: Wash the hair using your regular shampoo. Rinse. Apply hair conditioner to make the hair slippery. COMB hair the entire length from the scalp to end of hair. Wipe the comb between each stroke with a paper towel. Wiping the comb removes any liceor nits. Keep hair wet while combing. COMB hair at least 15-20 minutes. COMB all of hair. 


How can the spread of head lice be prevented?
Check children's heads frequently throughout the year. Especially if they are in child care or school. Avoid sharing items for hair care, clothing, hats, sports headgear towels, and bedding. If jackets are hung on hooks close together, tell your kids to stick their hats in the jacket sleeve, not on a shelf by the other kids hats.


 Additional tips

Treat all family members who have lice. Use the 14 day treatment process. Rinse combs and brushes in very hot tap water. Only ordinary house cleaning, vacuuming, and laundry are needed. No special effort or sprays are needed to clean your home Only dead or dying lice are found on clothing, bedding, or furniture.

 

What about day care, preschool or school?

There is no need for children to be sent home or to miss day care or school. Day-care providers may want to check children’s hair and ask parents to check their children’s hair to control outbreaks. School officials ask children to check their children’s hair at least weekly. Parents should check their own children and their playmates.

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