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Sharing is not always a good thing — prevent the spread of head lice

Published in For the Health of It Author: Tami Stanger, MLS, MSM

Do your kids like to take selfies with their friends? What seems like sharing innocent fun can actually share head lice.

Lice are most commonly spread by direct contact (head to head) but sometimes it can be spread by sharing items that touch the hair (combs, brushes, caps, headphones, scarves, hats, coats, etc.). Lice move by crawling — they cannot hop or fly. Dogs, cats and other pets do not play a role in the spread of head lice.

Lice live less than 48 hours off of your body. They need the warmth of your body and the blood supply.

Signs and symptoms

  • Tickling feeling of something moving in your hair.
  • Itching caused by an allergic reaction to the bites of the head louse.
  • Irritability and difficulty sleeping; head lice are most active in the dark.
  • Sores on your head caused by scratching. These sores can sometimes become infected with bacteria found on your skin.


Many head lice medications are available at pharmacies without a prescription. If crawling lice still are seen after a full course of treatment, contact your health care provider.

Besides treating the person with lice, all members of the household and close contacts should be checked. You should also:

  • Use hot water (130°F) laundry cycle and the high heat drying cycle on all clothing, bed linens and other items that the infested person wore or used during the two days before treatment. Items that are not washable can be dry cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag and stored for two weeks.
  • Soak combs and brushes in hot water (at least 130°F) for five to 10 minutes.
  • Vacuum the floor and furniture.

If you would prefer to have an infestation taken care of by professionals, there are businesses that specialize in getting rid of lice.

Lifecycle of Lice

  1. Eggs: Head lice eggs are known as nits. They are hard to see and often confused with dandruff or hairspray residue. They are laid by the adult female and are attached to the base of the hair shaft. They are 0.8 mm by 0.3 mm, oval and usually yellow to white. They take about a week to hatch (six to nine days) and then are known as nymphs.
  2. Nymphs: They look the same as an adult but are about the size of a pinhead. Nymphs mature after three molts and become adults. This takes about seven days.
  3. Adults: Adults are about the size of a sesame seed, have six clawed legs and are tan to grayish-white. Females are usually larger than males and lay up to eight nits per day. Adult lice can live up to 30 days on a person’s head but will die within one or two days if they fall off.