Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Head Lice: More than you ever wanted to know

It is more than I ever wanted to know. That's for sure! I have had several friends ask me how I know so much about head lice. This is all new to me. I have never experienced lice before my children came home with them several weeks ago. I had no idea what one even looked like. But, I turned to my trusty friend, the internet, which usually is the first source for info. I found a wealth of information. I was careful to avoid sites that appeared to be more concerned with selling their lice-killing product, however.

This site: is full of very helpful information. I found photos, details about the lice life cycle, and tips for getting rid of them without the use of lice shampoos which are actually just pesticides. There is also some scary info about those, too.

The photo I used here is from this site which is a really nice fact sheet about lice.

Here is another informative site.

Here is what I have learned in a nutshell:

Head lice are small bugs that feed on human blood and live within the hair. They cannot live off of a human for more than a day or so, therefore a house cannot be infested with lice. Pets and animals cannot get lice.

Anyone can get lice and it has nothing to do with cleanliness. In fact, someone told me she thought that lice actually prefer clean hair to dirty.

You can have lice and not have any symptoms. (On the flip side, you can not have any lice, think about them and have your head itch like crazy.) The best way to detect them is through regular head checks.

Checking for Lice:
  • It is easiest to check a head for lice when the hair is wet. It is easier to see all the way to the scalp. You can, however, check a dry head, too.
  • Lice only hang out close to the scalp and attach their eggs on the hair shaft within 1/4" of the scalp because they need body heat.
  • Behind the ears and along the nape of the neck is prime lice real estate on a scalp because these are the warm and toasty spots. Check there first.
  • Use a nit or other fine-toothed comb to first part the hair to see to the scalp and second to comb through the hair starting at the scalp and pulling the comb all the way to the ends. Look at the comb after each pass to check for lice.
  • Lice run when they see light. So pay close attention as you are separating the hair and parting it to see to the scalp.
  • Be thorough. Check every part of the scalp carefully.
  • I found it helpful to have hairclips to clip off the hair that I had already checked.
  • Tweezers are good for removing lice.
  • Manicure scissors are helpful for cutting out the hairs that you find eggs attached to.
  • Be sure to thoroughly clean anything you use (combs, clips, etc.) before using it on the next person you check. Items may be boiled for 10 minutes or soaked briefly in alcohol.

Lice life cycle:

  • Only adult lice lay eggs.
  • Lice eggs (nits) take 7-10 days to hatch. They start off light in color and darken as they get closer to hatching.
  • Baby lice (nymphs) look like small adults.
  • Nymphs take 7-12 days to mature into egg-laying adults.
  • Adults are about the size of a seseme seed.
  • Lice live for about 30 days.
  • One female louse can lay 100 eggs.
  • Lousology 101

Treating your head for lice:

If you find lice, you have to remove them and their eggs. The question is: "how?"

You can go to the store and purchase an over-the-counter lice treatment and use it. This is what I did when we first discovered them on my daughter. After using the treatment which is supposed to kill or at least stun the bugs, you need use a lice comb and go through the hair thoroughly and remove them. Expect this to take well over an hour if your child has longer hair. Trust me - I speak from experience.

The day after we did this, I found info that these are nothing more than pesticides you put on your child's head. Many are know carcinogens and the prescription versions are the worst. Ick! But here is the kicker. Although I removed lots of dead or barely moving lice the night before, my daughter's head was still crawling with them the next day. And the package even says that this will not kill the eggs so you need to retreat in a week to kill all the newly hatched lice.

So our next play in the battle of the lice was mayonnaise. We slathered the heads of everyone we had found a louse on. And I mean slathered from the scalp to the tips. Everything was coated. Then we popped on a shower cap and slept that way. It was messy and unpleasant, but incredibly effective. The next day after we washed out the mayo, there was not a single living louse to be found. Obviously, mayo is not toxic to human or lice, but it does sufficate them if left on long enough. The only drawback with this (and all other treatments) is that it doesn't kill the eggs.

So, the next step is daily dilligence in checking heads. If you can find the eggs and remove them, tht is ideal, but they are small, hard to see and easy to miss. So the key is using a fine toothed comb (preferably a nit comb like this) and going through all the hair from scalp to tip to catch any lice that have hatched. Expect to find some, especially a week or so later. That was the thing that tripped us up and why we had to go round two with the lice. After a week of not seeing any, we relaxed. That's when the sneaky little devils snuck back and reclaimed territory on our heads. Check at least every other day for 2 -3 weeks. Ideally if you find any live lice, especially bigger ones, you should repeat the mayo treatment. With vigilenge you can beat 'em!

I broke down and purchased the Supermom's Complete No-Lice System. It includes a Robi-comb which electrocutes lice on contact. I have found that this is much faster to use in checking the heads of all seven members of our household than the nit comb (which is also include in the kit). The kit also includes the No-Lice Hair and Body Spray. I have to say that I love the smell of this. My son says it smells like candy canes.
Here is the decripton from the site:

Supermom/'s No-Lice Hair and Body Spray offers parents hope of never
experiencing a head lice infestation!
This herbal blend uses the best nature
has to offer to repel head lice when used regularly. Whereas most lice products
wait for you to have a lice outbreak, this one gives you a tool to keep lice
away with a simple spray every day. Commonly found head lice products use toxic
pesticides on the people that are most vulnerable to adverse side effects:
Supermom owner Erica Johns used her knowledge of herbs to
formulate this unique blend for her own children, and later started selling it
to others. Several years later, the product is gaining in popularity as people
learn how to stay lice-free every day the all-natural way!
The spray has a
pleasant peppermint scent and has no chemicals, colorings, additives, or
The big 16 ounce bottle of spray will last most families a
year. Each bottle comes with complete instructions.
Supermom's No-Lice Hair
and Body Spray also works great to help keep fleas away from your pets!

So right now I am daily using the Robi-Comb on each of us and using the spray whenever we go our in public.

So that's how to treat people. Now, here's how treat the house and your stuff:

First, it is imprtant to remember that a house cannot be infested with lice - only people. Lice cannot live very long off of a human because they need their heat and blood.

  • All bedding should be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer.
  • All clothing and washable material that has been in contact with the infested person(s) in the last 2 days need to be washed in hot water and dried on hot.
  • If a fabric item cannot be washed, it can be merely thrown in a hot dryer for 20 or more minutes. (This is great for many stuffed animals.)
  • If an item can't handle washing or drying in hot, then quarantine it by sealing it in a plastic bag and setting it aside for at least 2 weeks.
  • Vacuum! Vacuum mattresses, upholstered furniture, and floors. Favorite stuffed animals that can't be washed and quarantining for 2 weeks would cause distress may be vacuumed thoroughly. The idea here is that if a louse or a hair with an egg dropped off a head, you want to remove it so that it cannot find it's way to a new head home. If the louse has been without human contact for more that a couple of days it is dead. The eggs probably will not hatch without the heat from a human head. If, by chance, they do, then the nymph need to eat immediately or dies.
  • Pesticide lice sprays (included in OTC lice kits) are not necessary and may be quite harmful, especially to young children.
  • All hair items like combs, brushes, barrettes, rubberbands, etc should be boiled for 10 minutes or soaked in alcohol. I will warn you that most items we own will not stand up to boiling without warping horribly. The nice nit combs did fine along with a couple of the sturdier brushes. On of our brushes, however, began to disinigrate in the alcohol. I have had to buy several new ones.

Here is the best advice I read:

It is important to put the majority of your physical and emotional energy into de-lousing heads not the house. Although the house is also important, diligence in checking the heads and removing lice and nits is the key to geting rid of them.

It is also interesting to note, that lice have no ability to fly, hop or jump. They can crawl and drop. That's it. There has to be direct head to head contact, or head to brush (or other item) to head contact, etc. to "catch" them.

So, there it is. That's my version of Head Lice 101. I hope this is information that you will never have to use because I really wouldn't wish this on anyone. It is a lot of work and is incredibly time consuming. I estimate that I spent about 7 hours a day JUST nit-picking my children's head during round one of our lice battle. Then every other waking moment was spent doing laundry and vacuuming. I am praying that we have a grip on this now.

1 comment:

Thriftin and Craftin said...

Thanks for the great info. I SO hope I never have to refer to this post! YUCK!!!! Hope you're all lice-free now!