Lice are wingless parasitic insects that feed on blood and infest the hairy parts of human bodies. Humans are affected by three types of lice; head, pubic and body lice. Body lice are the result of extreme overcrowding and poor sanitation.
While head and pubic lice attach their eggs to the base of the hair shaft, body lice attach their eggs onto clothing. Eggs hatch in 6 - 9 days and require warm temperatures to survive, but can survive 2 - 10 days away from the host, depending on the type of louse.
Lice can live from 20 - 30 days and will produce 5 eggs per day during this time. As their name implies, head lice can be found in the scalp area, and pubic lice are generally found in the pubic area, but can also be found in eyebrows and armpits.
Lice are from 1.5 to 3mm (1/16 to 1/8 inch) or about the size of a sesame seed, in length with a flat elongated body and are spread through personal contact and the sharing of such items as combs, brushes, clothing and bedding. Pubic lice tend to spread by sexual contact.
Head lice occur in all socioeconomic groups and are not a sign of uncleanness. Anyone can get head lice under the right conditions, but are most commonly found in elementary school and day care children. Lice can spread as long as they are alive on hair or clothing. Itching is the most common symptom of a head lice infestation, but children with a light infestation may not show any symptoms. This makes a thorough examination of the hair and scalp necessary. Itching may occur two or three weeks after infestation with head lice.
Medicated shampoos, cream rinses and soaps are used to kill lice. They are available from you doctor, or over the counter. Follow the directions on the label and repeat the process in 7 - 10 days to kill any lice which hatched after the first treatment.
To prevent becoming infected:
- Don't share combs, brushes, hats, or other headgear. These and similar items should be soaked for 10 minutes in a pan of hot water (128 degrees F - 58 degrees C), or by soaking them in a medicated shampoos for 1 hour.
- Clothing, sheets, blankets and bedspreads should be washed in hot water for five minutes to destroy eggs and lice. Storing clothing in plastic bags for ten days is also effective.
- Vacuum the furniture and carpets.