Head Lice Facts

Where do head lice come from?

Head lice have been around for millions of years. In fact, dried up lice and their eggs have been found on the hair of Egyptian mummies! Head lice do not come out of the air or from the ground. They are human parasites that feed on blood and travel from one head to another. Lice cannot survive more than 48 hours off the head. However, head lice that are still alive off the human head are capable of infesting a new human host.

Who can get head lice?

Anyone. A personʼs degree of cleanliness or personal hygiene has little or nothing to do with getting head lice. A common misconception is that lice infestations are a result of poor hygienic practices. In fact, head lice actually
seem to prefer clean hair to dirty hair.

How are head lice spread?

Head lice can be spread whenever there is direct head to head contact with an infested individual. Less frequently, lice are also transmitted between people by head-to-hand contact and by items such as hats, hair ties, scarves, pillows, etc.
However, scientists disagree on how often this type of “fomite” transmission – that is, transmission from an object contaminated with lice – really occurs.

Is it possible to get head lice from sharing a pillow or hat with a person who has head lice?

Lice cannot survive off of a human host longer than 48 hours, and they are uniquely adapted for living in human head hair. They generally do not like to leave the protected environment created within head hair. If a louse did come off an infested individual and hide in a pillow or hat, it may be possible for the louse to infest another individual who uses the pillow or hat.

What are the symptoms of head lice?

Head lice are most commonly found on the scalp, behind the ears and near the neckline at the base of the head. Unless seen, symptoms of infestation are easy to miss. Symptoms include a tickling sensation, or feeling something moving through the hair. An allergic reaction to the bites causes itching. Viable eggs are usually located within 1/4 inch (6mm) of the scalp.

What do head lice and their eggs look like?

The adult louse is no bigger than a sesame seed and is grayish-white or tan. Nymphs are smaller. Lice eggs (often called nits) look like tiny yellow, tan, or brown dots before they hatch. After hatching, the remaining shell looks white or clear. Click here for more information and some great pictures.

Do head lice jump?

No! Head lice do not jump, fly or swim. They are good crawlers, however, and will readily move from one person to another when the hair of the two people is in contact.

Do head lice carry or transmit any disease?

There are no reliable data to suggest that head lice carry or transmit disease organisms.

What can I do to get rid of head lice and the eggs?

Increasing numbers of consumers are finding that the most popular treatments for head lice – including chemical shampoos and home remedies – are largely ineffective. Head lice are rapidly evolving chemical resistance to many of the traditional pesticide-based control methods.

What is the life cycle of head lice and their eggs?

Eggs are laid by adult female lice and usually take about 8 to 9 days to hatch into nymphs. Nymphs: Nymphs are immature lice that mature into adults about 9 to 12 days after hatching from the egg. Adults: Adult lice can live about 30 days on a personʼs head. If they come off the host, they die within 24 to 48 hours. Female adult lice lay about 4 eggs per day and can lay about 88 eggs during their lifetime.

Do pets get head lice?

No. Head lice cannot live on pets. Head lice can only live on human heads.

What are some steps I can take to help prevent and control the spread of head lice?

  • Avoid head to head contact during play, sleepovers, or other activities at home, school, and elsewhere.
  • Do not share combs, brushes or towels used by an infested person.
  • Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, hair ribbons or barrettes.
  • Machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens, and other items that an infested person used or wore during the previous 2 days using a hot water laundry cycle and high heat drying cycle.
  • Do not use fumigant sprays or fogs. They are not necessary to control head lice and can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.