/Lice (Head Lice, Pediculosis)

Lice (Head Lice, Pediculosis)

What are head lice?

The head louse is a small, grayish-white insect about 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch in length that lives in hair and on the scalp.

The nits (eggs), larvae, and adult lice can be seen easily and are often found near the nape of the neck and around the ears.

Who gets head lice?

  • Head lice occur in all socioeconomic groups and are not a sign of uncleanliness.
  • Anyone may get head lice under the right conditions.
  • Head lice are often found in children who attend elementary schools or child-care facilities.

How are lice spread?

Spread of head lice can happen during close personal contact with a person who has head lice.

Head lice are wingless insects that move relatively quickly, which is why they spread easily from person to person. However, they do not jump, fly or hop.

They can also be spread by sharing:

  • Combs
  • Brushes
  • Hats
  • Caps
  • Wigs
  • Curlers
  • Other headgear
  • Storage of items in a shared locker

What are the symptoms of head lice?

Itching is the most common symptom of head lice infestation, but children with a light infestation (1 to 5 lice) may not complain. Therefore, a thorough examination of the hair and scalp is necessary to find head lice or nits.

How soon do symptoms appear?

Itching may occur two to three weeks after infestation with head lice.

How long is a person able to spread head lice?

Lice can spread as long as they remain alive on a person or on clothing.

What is the treatment for head lice?

  • Medicated shampoos or cream rinses are used to kill lice.
    • They are available from your doctor or over-the-counter.
    • Some shampoos are not recommended for infants, young children, or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
    • Always follow the directions on the label of the shampoo.
    • The shampoo should be used again in seven to ten days to make sure any lice that hatched after the first treatment are killed.
  • Special fine-toothed combs are usually available with the shampoo to aid in removing nits.

What can be done to prevent the spread of head lice?

  • Contacts of people with head lice should be checked for nits or lice and treated if necessary.
    • They should also be taught not to share combs, brushes, hats, or other headgear.
  • Clothing and bedding should be washed in hot water (128º F.) for 5 minutes to destroy lice and eggs. Dry cleaning or storing clothing in plastic bags for 10 days is also effective.
  • Combs, brushes and similar items can be treated by soaking for 5-10 minutes in a pan of water heated to 128º F, or by soaking them for 1 hour in medicated shampoo.
  • Cleaning of carpets or furniture can be limited to a simple vacuuming.
  • Regular inspection for head lice in children attending elementary school or day care.

Where can I get more information?

Contact your physician or the Southern Nevada Health District, Office of Epidemiology at (702) 759-1300.

Contact Information

(702) 759-1000

Updated on: August 17, 2018

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