Biological Characteristics of Head Lice
The head louse, Pediculus captitis, is one of three species of lice that infest humans. The other two are Pediculus humanus, the body or clothing louse, and Pthirus pubis, the pubic or “crab” louse. Unfortunately, body lice, which are associated with poor hygiene, have given all lice a bad reputation. Body lice live on clothing and go to the body only to feed. Therefore, they are most commonly found among refugees, victims of disaster or war, homeless individuals, and others who are unable to wash or change their clothes. Head lice, in contrast, spend their entire lives on the human scalp, clinging to the hair while feeding, mating, and laying eggs. They are not linked to poor living conditions and are most commonly found in individuals with good hygiene and grooming habits.
Lifecycle of Head Lice
Twenty-four hours after mating, the female head louse lays her eggs, more commonly referred to as a nit. Under optimum conditions, a healthy female lays approximately 140 eggs during her lifetime of about 30 days. The eggs are coated with a fixative that cements them to the hair shaft. Because the chemical structure of this fixative substance is very similar to that of the hair shaft, researchers have yet to develop a product that will dissolve the fixative without damaging the hair.
Like many ectoparasites (external parasites) that can endure starvation and extremes of temperature, lice and their eggs can survive only under relatively narrow set of environmental conditions. From their first blood meal to their last, head lice prefer to feed every four to six hours and cannot survive if they miss several consecutive meals. Therefore, although a louse may fall or climb onto other surfaces, it cannot live on these and must return to a human head within 24 hours if it is to survive.
Head Lice Information
Pediculosis – the lice infestation of humans – has been documented for thousands of years. And while Lice Control has been around since 2001, we’ve learned our share about removing lice. Head lice and nits have been found on human mummies, and lice are mentioned in ancient writings, including the Bible. Not all civilizations viewed these parasites in a negative light. The Aztecs, for example, collected their head lice in bags and offered them to their emperor as a token of respect. Young women in northern Siberia once threw lice at men as a sign of affection, as if to say, “My louse is thy louse.” Our lice removal technicians express their affection by removing your lice and throwing them in the trash can as quickly as possible. Today, most societies consider lice undesirable and expend billions of dollars on head lice treatment and control. Despite the efforts of parents, health providers, and school authorities, infestation with head lice is a persistent growing problem. Head lice effect up to 25% of school-aged children in the United States. Incidence appears to be on the rise, with lice becoming increasingly resistant to many commonly-used OTC (Over the counter) pediculicide products.
Stages Of Head Lice
Newly-laid viable eggs are plump and shiny and have a tan or coffee color. Eggs that have hatched are clear, white, or light in color and may appear shrunken or indented. On the end of the nit facing away form the scalp is the “operculum,” a tiny cap with several holes in it that allow air and moisture into the egg for the development of the embryo.
After a 7 to 10 day incubation period, the baby louse, commonly referred to as a nymph or instar, uses its mouth parts to cut a hole in the operculum. The nymph then sucks in air and rapidly expels it, causing the operculum to pop off. The newly-emerged nymph closely resembles an adult louse but is much smaller and not yet capable of reproducing. It is flesh-colored and no larger than a pinhead, making it almost impossible to see with the naked eye. The nymph emerges, effective and mobile, and must feed on human blood shortly after hatching or it will rapidly succumb to dehydration and starvation.
Checking For Head Lice
The scalp should be examined in sunlight or under bright artificial light. The hair should be parted, with individual stands checked for nits. Magnifying reading glasses (2x or greater) can aid in visual detection. Nits are most predictably found on hairs at the nape of the neck and behind the ears, where they are protected from extremes of light and temperature. However, they may be laid anywhere on the hair, especially in warm weather.
The appearance of a nit is often confused with that of a flake of dandruff or a dried particle of hairspray or gel. Dandruff and hair products can be easily combed off the hair or removed with the fingers, while nits cannot. Nits are firmly glued to the hair and must be removed with a fine-toothed comb or fingernails, or snipped off with scissors.
Does your child have lice? Watch our video on lice removal for the proper combing technique to identify the lice bugs and nits. If you still have questions, call Lice Control.
Treating Head Lice
Conventional methods for removing lice and nits from the hair, like brushing, combing with a good nit comb, shampooing, and towel or blow-drying, can help reduce the number of viable lice and eggs on the head, but are insufficient to cure an active infestation. Effective head lice removal involves the manual removal of nits and lice with combing, nit picking, and/or controlled heated air. It is common to comb or nit pick through the hair after treatment to remove lice and nits. Nit removal is important because it removes an outwardly visible sign of head lice infestation, thus preventing stigmatization.
Watch the video for a demonstration of proper combing and nitpicking technique.
Head Lice Treatment Tips & Techniques – Lice Control
Many school officials insist on a no nit policy to ensure the freedom from infestation and proof of adequate treatment. Because this policy fails to differentiate between viable and non-viable nits, it tends to include children who pose no threat of transmitting head lice from attending school. The no nit policy also places a substantial burden on parents, who must go through the time-consuming process of removing all nits from the hair. For many working parents, this includes taking time off from work.
Head Lice Cures
Reluctant to continue applying pesticides to children’s heads, many desperate and frustrated parents and health professional are turning to alternative therapies to battle head lice. Some claim to have successfully cured their infestations by using inexpensive, non-pesticide products including petroleum jelly, hair pomade, olive oil, mayonnaise, vegetable shortening, vinegar, mineral oil, and essential oils sold at health food stores.
There is no doubt that oily alternatives such as petroleum jelly, olive oil, or mayonnaise slow down the lice, making them easier to find and comb out, and even killing some. Unfortunately, because they are not as effective as the currently available pediculicide products, they usually require repeated overnight treatments and many hours of painstaking combing. The need for repeated overnight treatments, in turn, can delay a child’s return to school.
Lice Control has significant experience with many different types of head lice treatment options. After years of research and testing, we believe our heat treatment device or manual removal processes is the most effective and fastest lice removal solution.
We have also tested a wide range of lice treatment products. While we believe the manual process to be the optimal lice treatment, there are products that help. Visit our online store to find recommendations for the most effective non-toxic products available.
If you have questions about any of these products, just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your lice product options and recommended usage. Or you can simply contact Lice Control today and let us take the worry and hassle out of your head lice problem. We work quickly and discretely and all our services are 100% guaranteed.
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