Head Lice: Where Do They Come From?

Medically Reviewed on 9/9/2020

What are head lice?

Head lice infestation can affect anyone
Head lice infestation can affect anyone

Head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) are tiny wingless insects that may be found on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes of people. They feed on human blood many times a day and live close to the human scalp.

Head lice infestation can affect anyone; however, it is more commonly seen in children. Head lice can easily spread from one person to the other, making it difficult at times to get rid of them. The infestation is often annoying because the lice bites can make the scalp itchy and irritated. Repeated scratching may lead to infection. Head lice as such are not dangerous and are not known to spread any diseases. Head lice must be treated right away to prevent the infestation from spreading.

Head lice infestation is very common in the United States. It is mostly seen in pre-school children attending childcare, elementary school children, and the household members of the affected children. An estimated 6 to 12 million head lice infestations occur each year in the United States among children between three to 11 years of age.

How do people get head lice?

Head lice are easily transmitted from person to person. Being wingless, head lice cannot hop or fly. They move by crawling and spread by direct contact with the head of the hair of an infected person. Coming in head-to-head contact with a person carrying head lice poses the greatest risk of transmission. Head lice can also spread by sharing or coming in contact with personal items, such as clothing (caps/hats, scarves, coats, etc.), combs, hairbrushes, hair bands, or towels, used by an infected person. They may also spread by lying on a bed, couch, pillow, or carpet that recently has been in contact with an infected person.

Head lice are not spread by pets, including dogs and cats. Having head lice is not a sign of poor hygiene or lack of cleanliness. The lice survive on blood and can infest anyone whether clean or dirty.

How would I know if I have head lice?

The surest way to know that you have a head lice infestation is by finding a live nymph (an immature louse) or adult louse on your scalp or hair. Using a magnifying lens and a fine-toothed comb may help to find live lice. If you cannot find crawling lice, you may look for the nits (tiny lice eggs) firmly attached within one-fourth of an inch from the base of the hair.

If you are unsure whether you have a head lice infestation, you may take the help of a healthcare provider or other person trained to identify live head lice.

The typical signs and symptoms of head lice infestation are:

  • Tickling feeling as if something is moving in the hair.
  • Itching caused by allergic reactions due to the head lice bites.
  • Irritability and difficulty sleeping since the head lice avoid light and are most active in the dark.
  • Sores or small red bumps on the scalp, forehead, neck, and shoulders caused by scratching.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/9/2020
References
https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/gen_info/faqs.html https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/head-lice.html