The head louse is an insect that lives and breeds on human heads. Head lice feed themselves by biting your scalp. Having head lice is common; as many as 6–12 million people worldwide get head lice each year. From time to time, a lice bitten scalp rears its ugly head at an Ontario camp. Below are some quick facts about lice that we think families should be aware of:
Who can get head lice?
- Anyone who comes in close head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice can get head lice. Head lice are found more often among children between the ages of 3–10 and their families. Girls get head lice more often than boys, women more than men.
How do you get head lice?
- By close head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice. Contact is common during play at school and at home (slumber parties, sports activities, at camp, on a playground, etc.).
- By using hats, scarves, combs, brushes, hair ribbons, pillows or towels recently used by someone with head lice.
What do they look like?
The insects are tiny, wingless, move quickly, and are difficult to see. They cannot jump or fly. They are 1–2 mm long and greyish brown in colour. There are three forms of lice: the nit, the nymph and the adult.
- Nits: Nits are head lice eggs. They are hard to see and are often confused with dandruff or hair spray droplets. Nits are found firmly attached to the hair shaft. They are oval and usually yellow to white. Nits take about 1 week to hatch.
- Nymph: The nit hatches into a baby louse called a nymph. It looks like an adult head louse, but is smaller. Nymphs mature into adults about 7 days after hatching. To live, the nymph must feed on blood.
- Adults: The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, has 6 legs, and is tan to greyish-white. Females lay nits; they are usually larger than males. Adult lice can live up to 30 days on a person’s head. To live, adult lice need to feed on blood. If a louse falls off a person, it dies within 2 days.
How can I control the spread of head lice?
- Discourage head-to-head contact and sharing of hats, scarves, hairbrushes and combs.
- Tie long hair back in braids.
- Check the heads of all family members and people in close contact in case someone else has head lice.
- All family members with head lice should be treated at the same time.
- Tell all close contacts of the person with head lice to check their heads. As well, tell the child’s teacher and/or daycare worker.
- You cannot prevent head lice by using head lice shampoos or products – use them only if you have head lice.
- Check young school age children regularly for head lice; more often if there is an outbreak.
Important points to remember
- Lack of cleanliness does not cause head lice.
- Both children and adults can get head lice.
- Short hair does not prevent the spread of lice.
- Head lice do not live on dogs, cats or other animals.
Lice: What am I looking for?
- It is really important to check for lice prior to camp.
- Look for red scabs caused by scratching, nits and bugs (reddish brown in colour) crawling through the hair.
- They are almost microscopic (1mm to 4mm).
- Eggs are tear shaped, brownish yellow in colour, and glued to one side of a the hair shaft (often close to the scalp).
- Look for lice and lice eggs around the ears, at the crown of the head, and the nape of the neck.
- Use a bright light (sunlight is ideal) and proper magnification.
- If it is white, it is not a nit or lice.
What is our protocol?
Periodic screening of campers for lice will take place within your camper’s first days at camp. If lice are detected at camp, our Health Centre will initiate treatment and alert you of your camper’s status as well as inform the families of the other campers in the cabin group. For further information on head lice, please check out www.licesquad.com