Head lice, which are commonly referred to as nits, are wingless six legged parasites which infest the hair and feed off the scalp. The colour of a female louse varies from greyish to brown, varying with the skin colour of its host and how much blood it has sucked. The female is larger than the male and the lice can range from
1-4mm. The female can lay 7-12 eggs a day and can produce several hundred in its lifetime and can live live for about 4 weeks. The eggs take 6-8 days to hatch as ‘nymphs’ and are fully grown in another 8-9 days. Lice only live for a few hours on clothing, head wear, furniture, hair equipment etc, so it would be unlikely to contract them in this way but not impossible.
Head lice are widespread among children, and are in the main caught through direct head to head contact. The noticeable nits (eggs) are often empty shells. The most common areas of infestation are around the ears and the nape of the neck, but the whole of the scalp can be infested. Often itching is an associated symptom, this is due to the fact they require a supply of human blood to survive. This blood is obtained by penetrating the skin the louse injects its saliva into the skin causing irritation. It is often girls that are infested more than boys, due mainly to the length of their hair and physical contact. Poor hygiene can be a factor in the infestation multiplying more rapidly but contrary to popular belief, the condition is not due to dirt. Neither do lice ‘prefer’ clean hair – they are indiscriminate.
There are many effective treatments available, ranging from lotions, creams, prevention methods. The nits (eggs) can be removed with a special ‘nit comb’. This is recommended to effectively eradicate the infestation. Using conditioner on the hair when combing to help with this process is suggested and combing regularly in this way helps to reduce infestation and protect against re-infestation.