I was talking to my Oklahoma friend today and was told that their entire family had somehow contracted a case of head lice. It seems to be going around their school and their sixth grade daughter brought it home for the family.
Head lice can be found on the human scalp: on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes. They feed on human blood several times a day. Head lice move my crawling. They don’t hop or fly. They are often spread by contacting someone’s hat, coat, comb, brush, or towel that is used by someone affected by the insect.
Head lice have three forms: the egg (or nit), the nymph, and the adult. The CDC website has a good photo of the actual size of these three forms. The egg is laid on the hair shaft near the scalp. The nits hatch in about 8 days. It takes about a week and a half for the nymph to reach maturity. They can do so only on a diet of human blood. The adult must also feed on blood. They only live about a month as adults but lay about six eggs each day. If the lice falls off the persons head (or is on a brush, pillow, etc.) it will only live for about two days unless there is another head that it comes in contact with.
Imagine you just went to the doctor’s office, or the bank, or a restaurant. You sit down on their nice comfortable chair and sink yourself in. Your head rests against the nice cushioned chair. Finally you get to relax a bit while you wait. But what if the person before you had head lice? Or a person from the prior day? What if the kids at school hang their coats up on hooks and they all get piled on top of each other?
It’s no big deal. Perhaps it will be just one little louse. But what if that one was a female, just reaching adulthood? She could lay six eggs a day for a month. They won’t even start hatching and you’d have no idea you were infected with them until you had 75 or 80 on you. Even then, you may itch for a second or two but you’ll just sluff it off. In her month long life of laying eggs she will lay around 180 eggs. If all 180 hatch and half are female, then in a couple of weeks 90 more lice will start laying eggs. In one month, and before you really realize what’s happening you can have over 16,000 lice sucking the blood from your scalp! If you don’t get them taken care of in another month you will have almost three million disgusting creatures on you. Now, I’ve never heard of anyone having three million lice. You’d probably die of anemia by then!
How do you make sure you get rid of them in your house? You don’t need to fumigate the house. The lice aren’t going to live more than a couple days without sucking blood so if you just stay off the fabric sofa and chair, change and wash the sheets on your bed each day for a few days, wash all clothes that you’ve been wearing for the last couple days and vacuum your house you should be good. Have the wash water greater than 130 degrees. The lice don’t just walk around, they usually cling to hair that fell off your head and they just had the misfortune to be clinging to that particular piece. Although lice and nits don’t like cold temperatures, you’d have to have something in the freezer for a couple of days for it to kill them.
There are over the counter and prescription medications. There are also home remedies available. I’ll go over a few:
- Pyrethrins. (Rid) These use the pyrethroid extract from chrysanthemum flowers. Pyrethrins are safe and effective when used as directed but only kill the live lice. You have to do a second treatment to kill newly hatched eggs. If you are allergic to chrysanthemum or ragweed this is not the remedy for you.
- Permethrin. (Nix) This is a synthetic pyrethroid. This too doesn’t kill the eggs so a second treatment is necessary. This one is not approved for kids under two.
- Malathion lotion. (Ovide) Same malathion used to kill mosquitos and bugs in the yard. You need a doctor’s prescription for this one. It kills the live lice and some eggs so a second treatment will probably be necessary.
- Benzyl alcohol lotion. (Ulesfia) It only kills live lice so a second treatment is necessary. It’s approved for children over six months. This needs a prescription.
- Lindane shampoo. This needs a prescription but it’s not recommended since it can be toxic to the brain and other parts of the nervous system.
- Lice Shield Shampoo and Leave In Spray. Lice Shield is formulated with a blend of citronella, eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils. Found at Walmart, Walgreens, etc.
- Listerine. Soak your hair in Listerine. Put on a plastic shower cap. Wear this overnight.
- Vinegar. Wash your hair in vinegar.
- Oil or Mayonnaise. Rub this into your hair. After it’s been on your hair for two hours wash it out.
- Iron. Use a flat iron daily.
- Spend hours combing the nits out of each strand of hair. Use little metal lice combs. Get several!
Figure out how you are going to control this creature and prepare. My friend had to drive 45 miles from home to find a store that carried Rid or Nix because of the local outbreak.