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facts of lice
The head louse(singular), or Pediculus humanus capitis(medical name), is a parasitic insect that can be found on the heads of people. Head lice cannot spread disease. Head lice should not be considered as a public health hazard. Excessive scratching can increase the chance of a secondary skin infection, but lice themselves are not harmful.
Head lice feed on human blood several times a day and live close to the human scalp. Lice can not live off the head for more than 48 hours and require warm humid temperatures.
They are very small, have 6 clawed legs and range in size from 2mm-4mm. Claws equip the louse to grasp onto the hair shaft. Lice vary in colour from greyish white to reddish brown.
Head lice may cause itching of the scalp due to the bites or crawling of the head louse and red sores on the head caused by scratching. One may also detect a red rash on the nape of the neck or sense a tickling feeling or movement on the scalp or head. Itching is caused by a reaction to the bug’s saliva but only 50% of people with head lice will develop an itch.
Evidence of head lice can be traced back for centuries. Found on mummies in ancient tombs and in prehistoric burial grounds. References to head lice have been made as far back as 16 B.C.
Females are generally longer and wider than males and have a more rounded stomach. Males have a brown band around their backs. The female louse lays eggs by gluing them to one side of the hair shaft on a human head. Females lay eggs twice a day and can lay up to 5 eggs at a time. A female louse can lay up to 200 eggs in a lifetime.
Head lice are found worldwide and anybody can be affected. Children often spread head lice to their parents, caretakers and siblings living in the same household. Infestation with head lice is most common among pre-school children attending child care, elementary school children, and the household members of infested individuals. The newest research indicates that the largest numbers of cases are found on children between the ages of 9 through 16. The most recent statistic relating to head lice in Canada indicates that 1 out of every 14 households with children ages 3-12 had at least one head lice infestation during the past 12 months.
Head-to-head contact with an already infested person is the most common way to get head lice. Head-to-head contact is common during play at school, at home, and elsewhere (sports activities, playground, slumber parties and camp). Although uncommon head lice can be spread by sharing clothing or belongings (such as hats, scarves, coats) or other personal items (such as combs, brushes, or towels) used by an infested person. .Head lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly. An adult louse can travel up to 9 inches in one minute. Anyone who comes in head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice is at greatest risk. Dogs, cats and other pets do not play a role in the spread of head lice.
Personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting head lice. Head lice are more prone to clean hair than dirty hair as they do not like strong scents.
Head lice have been shown to build up a resistance to over the counter products that were once effective in killing them. Furthermore, research has shown that exposure to neuro-toxic products has been linked to seizures, developmental disabilities, hormone disruption and disease.The best method to remove lice and nits is to manually remove with a quality lice comb along with non-toxic, natural products.
Head lice have three forms: the egg (also called a nit), the nymph, and the adult louse. Nits are lice eggs laid by the adult female head louse at the base of the hair shaft nearest the scalp. Nits are firmly attached to the hair shaft and are oval-shaped and very small (about the size of a knot in thread) and hard to see. Nits often appear yellow or white although live nits sometimes appear to be the same color as the hair of the infested person. Nits are often confused with dandruff, scabs, or hair spray droplets. Nits usually take about 7-10 days to hatch. A nymph is an immature louse that hatches from the nit. A nymph looks like an adult head louse, but is smaller. To live, a nymph must feed on blood within the first 2 hours of hatching. Nymphs mature into adults about 9-12 days after hatching from the egg. The fully grown and developed adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, has six legs, and is tan to grayish-white in color. Adult head lice may look darker in persons with dark hair than in persons with light hair. To survive, adult head lice must feed on blood. An adult head louse can live about 30 days on a person’s head but will die within one or two days if it falls off a person.
Head lice and nits are found almost exclusively on the scalp, particularly around and behind the ears and near the nape of the neck as well at the back crown of the head. These are called hotspots. Head lice or nits can even be found on eyelashes or eyebrows, but this is very uncommon. Head lice nits are cemented firmly to the hair shaft and can be difficult to remove even after the nymphs hatch and empty casings remain.
Head lice occurs all year around. Since children have more contact with one another in a classroom environment, we see an increase in head lice throughout the school months. In addition, in warmer temperatures head lice move more freely around the hair and lay eggs in more areas. In colder temperatures they lay eggs closer to the scalp.
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