Lice are parasitic insects that feed on human blood. They are a common nuisance to school-aged children. Though lice do not transmit illness, they do reproduce at an extremely fast rate and are highly contagious. Despite popular belief, lice cannot fly or jump, but they do crawl extremely fast. The lice eggs are more likely to be seen than the bugs themselves, depending on the level of infestation.
Size of Adult Louse and eggs
An adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed and is yellow to brown in color. They have six legs and can reach maturity in nine to 12 days.
Lice eggs, also known as nits, are the size of a period, but oval in shape. They are attached to the hair shaft with a glue-like substance which makes them hard to remove. They are typically attached at an angle and can vary in color depending on what stage of life they are in, but usually range from translucent brown to yellow, to tan.
Only one live bug can be produced per nit or egg. After the egg is laid, it takes roughly seven to 10 days for it to hatch.Once the egg hatches, it takes another seven to 10 days to reach maturity and begin laying eggs of its own. An adult louse can lay up to six eggs per day and live for up to 30 days on a host. Pets cannot get lice.
A live louse cannot live for more than 24-48 hours off of its human host. It needs to feed and sustain its warmth otherwise it will die.
Nits can live a bit longer and are harder to locate and remove, which makes treatment so difficult.
Pesticides are commonly used to treat lice. Several different varieties are available on the market. It's important to read the labeling to ensure you are getting both a pesticide (one that kills the live lice) and an ovicide (one that kills the eggs). Common problems are associated with people just using pesticide and assuming that it kills the eggs. If pesticides are used, then it is imperative that the infested head be combed with a lice comb and examined thoroughly to make sure no nits remain. If just one nit is left on the hair, it could hatch and the process will start all over again. A second treatment is recommended no more than 10 days after the initial treatment to ensure everything has been killed. Examples of over-the counter products are LiceMD, Licefree, RID and Nix.
Talk to any parent, and they're likely to boast about home treatments they have developed or used. Use of mayonnaise, oil and Vaseline are common home treatments. Those are used with the idea that the dense product will "smother" the lice.
There are a few natural products that are pesticide free. One is tea tree oil as well as eucalyptus. Those are typically used as preventive treatments because it is believed that lice are repulsed by the smell.
Lice infestation is commonly and incorrectly thought of as a "dirty person's" affliction. That cannot be further from the truth. Lice are actually drawn to clean hair, that is easy to grasp onto (as opposed to greasy or product filled hair). Washing your child's head every day will not prevent lice because they are not easily washed away with water or shampoo. In fact, when a louse lays its eggs on the hair shaft, it has special "glue" that adhere the nit to the shaft. It is so powerful that it makes nit removal that more difficult.
For children with longer hair, braids and pony tails should be considered. Shorter hair cuts are a great option. Keeping the hair away from sources that potentially have lice is another way to help prevent infestation. Checking your child's head a few times a week, especially behind the ears, the crown and the nape of neck, is crucial.
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