There are a few common reasons that people continue to be plagued with head lice in their home. Are you one of those parents who has worked tirelessly with home remedies, over the counter shampoos, deep cleaning your home and nitpicking your child’s head only to realize a few weeks later – the problem has returned?! Here are some of the facts about head lice and why these methods just aren’t foolproof.
-Kids are most likely to get head lice, but parents can catch it, too! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention teach us that children between the ages of 3-10 are the most common victims of head lice. Why? Head lice are passed most often through direct head to head contact. Children at preschool, kindergartens, elementary schools or just living and playing amongst other children are more likely to have direct head to head contact and pass along head lice. That can mean that they bring it home and give it to mom and dad as well! If you have not checked EVERY member of your household for head lice, you are likely going to continue to have a problem. Our clinic offers head lice checks if you are unsure what to look for.
-Home remedies are NOT an effective, proven method against head lice and their eggs. Many mothers and fathers will go for the inexpensive, non-chemical methods such as essential oils, mayonnaise, vaseline or several other online ideas they can pick up from blogs. Unfortunately, these methods will do little in actually killing active head lice and especially their unhatched eggs from hatching in 7-9 days. Even if the suffocation methods kill the adults, in a few days time you will have a whole new generation of head lice pop up. These methods can also be dangerous, such a kerosene, or using plastic wrap on your child’s head. We do NOT recommend such ways to eliminate head lice and hope you will steer clear of these old wives tales.
-Drugstore treatments have an active ingredient, pyrethrin, that does NOT kill head lice anymore. Over the years the overuse of these products has resulted in a new generation of head lice that show strong immunities to them. In fact, people often use the product more often than recommended on the bottle in a desperate attempt to get rid of their head lice problem. This has resulted in lice shampoo burning children’s eyes causing irritation, tearing, scratches to the eye and even blurry vision. When it is inhaled it can cause damage resulting in a runny nose, coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and diarrhea, according to the National Pesticide Information Center.
As parent’s deal with a case of head lice, a hundred different questions can come racing through their mind. One of the most common questions we get asked is, “Do head lice bite?”
Yes, head lice do bite.
An adult louse will feed 5 to 6 times per day. The average person with a case of head lice is carrying 10-12 lice at a time. This averages over 50 head lice bites per day that person is infected. Obviously, this is assuming the problem is realized and taken care of fairly quickly. Infestations left untreated can be drastically worse as female lice lay up to 6 eggs per day. Lice eggs hatch every 7 days. You can see that head lice is a problem that can go from bad to worse in just a few short weeks.
How Do Head Lice Bite?
Lice have a mouth that acts as a tube with a suction cup on the end. They grab a hold of the skin on the scalp and push through small sharp teeth that penetrate the skin. As they feed, the skin is broken leaving red bumps and marks on the scalp.
Do Nits Bite, too?
Lice eggs, or nits, are not yet hatched and therefore unable to bite. As soon as an egg hatches, the newborn nymph will actively start looking for its first meal. Nymphs will bite and fed on human blood the same as adult lice while they grow and mature into adulthood.
What Causes the Itchiness?
As head lice bite they leave broken skin and open sores. They can become dry and irritated resulting in itchiness. This is just one of the reasons. As a louse drinks human blood, they salivate a substance that prevents the blood from clotting as they eat. This saliva is spread over the skin of the host and causes significant allergic reactions. Ever wonder how lice move around? As lice crawl around from hair strand to hair strand on the scalp they use hook-like claws on the tip of their legs. This gives off a tickling or irritating feeling that can lead to itchiness. The combination of bites, saliva, and crawling make itching a major symptom in indicating a head lice infestation.
My Child’s Scalp is Itchy? What do I do Now?
The first thing we recommend is using a nit comb, or fine tooth comb to examine your child’s scalp. Pay special attention to behind the ears, near the base of the neck and the crown of the head. These are the areas head lice like to linger and lay their eggs most often. While examining look for yellowish, oval eggs that are very near the base of the scalp. They will not easily flake off as dandruff would, but will be peeled off only using the fine tooth comb. Watch for red irritated bumps or rashes. Live lice will scurry away quickly from direct light and may be difficult to spot. If you do see any small, sesame seed-sized brown bugs crawling on the hair you clearly have a case of head lice.
Ever wonder what life is actually like for a louse?
Lice live only 30 days from the nit stage to adulthood. Though their lifespan may not be very long, they can certainly wreak havoc without any problem. Understanding the life cycle of head lice can help you in determining which treatment will be most effective.
Life Cycle of Lice:
Eggs – Male lice seek copulation with adult females. They begin reproducing within the first ten hours of reaching adulthood. Nits, or lice eggs, are very difficult to see with the naked eye. They are approximately 0.8 mm by 0.3 mm in size, oval in shape and yellowish white in color. They are often confused with dandruff or flakes from hair products. Eggs must be laid very close to the scalp in order for them to receive enough moisture and heat to survive. Once laid, a nit takes 7 to 9 days to hatch.
Nymphs – Once an egg hatches, a nymph emerges. The eggshell casing becomes darker in color and will continue to stick to the hair strand. In fact, these empty eggs can take 6 months or longer to disintegrate. If you find this casing ¼ of an inch from the scalp it is a clear indication that you have a head lice problem. The infant stage of a louse only lasts about a week. They will molt three separate times as their body grows to an adult louse.
Adult Louse – Once fully grown, a louse will measure about 2.5–3 mm long. Generally about the size of a sesame seed. They are dark brown or yellowish gray in color, often interestingly enough, depending on the hair color of their host. This is because their bodies are actually more transparent in color. As they drink blood, they also turn more reddish in color. They do not have wings and crawl about to feed on the scalp. They crawl by using claws that are attached to each of their 6 legs. Adult lice must feed multiple times per day on human blood to stay alive. If they fall off of a host and do not have blood supply for more than 1-2 days they will die. A female louse is actually a little larger than the males. Lice live only 30 days from nit stage to adulthood.
Did You Know?
Several factors play a role in who catches head lice. The CDC indicates that children between the ages of 3 to 11 are most likely to become infested with head lice.
It is estimated that between 6 and 12 million young children will catch a case of head lice in the United States each year.
The more children living within a family the more likely they are to spread it within a household. Children who share beds or closets are also more prone to head lice.
Little girls are four times as likely to become infested with head lice because they wear their hair long and often free-flowing.
African American children have the lowest risk of catching lice as their hair is not as easily grasped by the claw of a louse due to its shape and width.
For years it has been believed that rats were the main cause of the rapid spreading of the virus known as Yersinia pestis during the Black Plague Pandemic that would take millions of lives through the course of history in medieval Europe and Asia. Not until recently have scientists began to question this. One reason for the new intrigue is the realization that during these time frames there is no evidence of mass amounts of rats or rodents dying as well as humans. In addition, scientists are questioning the mass, rapid spread of the virus and the evidence of rats ability at creating such hysteria proves to fall short. In other words, it seems to have moved to quickly and wiped out too many people for it to have been only a rat problem.
Lice and fleas are now the topic of research.
Lice and fleas are human parasites, meaning they live, feed and breed off of human life. The massive pandemic of the Black Plague that swept through Europe killed presumably up to half the population. Spreading of an illness that quickly and devastatingly could have been the work of such parasites, especially considering the close quarters and unsanitary living conditions of the times.
The outbreaks occurred from the 1300’s to the early 1800’s, during a time when sewage, sanitation and personal hygiene were often not conducive to health and happiness. Families that lived in such close proximity with each other, friends, neighbors and other members of their flea and lice infested communities could reasonably, and very recklessly pass on parasitic carriers of the virus unknowingly.
What was the Black Death Plague?
An infected louse or flea could bite a person, spreading the illness into their bloodstream where it collected in the lymph nodes and symptoms started to fester. Under the armpits and groin areas were the usual places where lymph nodes would swell, sometimes reaching the size of a baseball or large apple. Fevers, chills, nausea, headache and delusions were all symptoms of the Black Plague. However, the term was coined by the large, swollen sores that would appear black under the skin and ooze painful black pus. At times there were people that caught the illness so quickly they would go to bed seemingly healthy, wake up at night with the fever, and not make it to the morning. Others with symptoms would live up to five days and die a painful, slower death. However, the mortality rate was devastating to populations during that time. At times killing up to two thirds of the known population. Whole cities and towns were wiped out by the illness and those who had not yet caught it would flee the area in hopes of preventing the devastation upon their own families. There were scarcely enough able bodied people to help bury the dead, care for the animal herds and fields, and try to tend to the sick. Archaeologists report that up to 200 bodies were buried in one grave at times.
Why do researchers care how the Black Plague was spread?
Although our health care understanding and hygiene practices have come a long way, believe it or not plagues are still existent in parts of the world. Madagascar suffered an outbreak just last October where over 50 people were killed and some 700 were hospitalized. World health organizations stepped in to stop the breakout, yet in third world countries these types of bacteria are still present and pose a risk. The plagues changed the course of history for all mankind, wiping out millions of the populations, and destroying countries. It is important to understand how it came about and why it was so rampant for the sake of future prosperity.