Head Lice Information

  • What are head lice? Head lice are tiny, wingless insects that live close to the human scalp. They feed on human blood. When checking for head lice, you may see several forms: the nit, the nymph, and the adult louse.

    • Nits are tiny teardrop-shaped lice eggs that are often yellowish or white. Nits are also what you call the shells that are left behind once the eggs hatch. Nits are attached to the hair shaft and often are found around the nape of the neck or the ears. Nits can look similar to dandruff, but cannot be easily removed or brushed off.
    • Nymphs, or baby lice, are small and grow to adult size in 1 to 2 weeks.
    • Adult lice are the size of a sesame seed and appear tan to grayish-white.

    Fast Facts

    • An estimated 6 to 12 million infestations occur each year among U.S. children 3 to 11 years of age.
    • Head lice do not discriminate, often infesting people with good hygiene. They spread mainly through head-to-head contact.
    • Head lice are a common community problem. Though a head lice infestation is often spotted in school, it is usually acquired through direct head-to-head contact elsewhere, such as at sleepovers. Head lice are not dangerous, and they do not transmit disease.
    • If you or your child exhibits signs of an infestation, it is important to learn about treatment.

    Signs and Symptoms of Infestation include:

    • Tickling feeling on the scalp or in the hair.
    • Itching caused by the bites of the louse.
    • Irritability and difficulty sleeping because lice are more active in the dark.
    • Sores on the head caused by scratching which can sometimes become infected.
    • Finding a live nymph or adult louse on the scalp in the hair is an indication of an active infestation. They are most commonly found behind the ears and near the neckline at the back of the head.

    How are head lice spread?

    • Head lice move by crawling.
    • Head lice are mostly spread by direct head-to-head contact—during play, sleepovers, sports activities, or camps.
    • It is possible to spread head lice by contact with items that have been in contact with a person with head lice, such as clothing (hats, scarves, coats), bedding or other personal items (combs and brushes).

    What if my child gets head lice?
    There are a number of available treatments, including new prescription treatment options that are safe and do not require nit combing. Other things to consider include:

    • Follow treatment instructions exactly.
    • Head lice do not infest the house. However, bed linens and recently used clothing, hats, and towels should be washed in very hot water and dried on the high setting.
    • Personal articles, such as combs, brushes, and hair ornaments, should be soaked in very hot water for 5-10 minutes if they were exposed to someone with an active infestation.
    • All household members and other close contacts should be checked, and those with an active infestation should all be treated at the same time.
    • Contact your school nurse or your health care provider for any questions and additional information.

    All information obtained from the National Association of School Nurses website.