Sunday, 23 September 2012

Head Lice Do Not Jump

Ok, so today I’m going off on a bit of a rant. I usually don’t vent over the internet (because so many of you do it much better than moi) but seriously, this is starting to bug me. So prepare yourself for a longish post. I don’t expect you to read it all but if you have kids in elementary school I suggest you at least skim it, read the summary at the bottom and look at the pretty pictures at the end. The rest of you can read on a diagonal like you ALWAYS do. You know who you are… :P

Okay, ready?

Head lice Flea

If you’ve got kids in preschool or elementary, chances are you’ve had to deal with head lice. Second week of elementary school and I’ve already had to treat my daughter for the little buggers. So why am I bringing this up? Because I hear people say the dumbest things when it comes to head lice. It’s important to know the difference because you don’t treat a flea infestation the same way you treat head lice. DUH!!

First, if your child gets head lice, it doesn’t automatically mean you lack proper hygiene or are generally dirty. Head lice couldn't care less about cleanliness. They are there to suck your blood and reproduce, period. Head lice also don’t care if your skin color is yellow, black, white, green, beige, pink or any other color. And surprise, it doesn't care if you’re rich, poor or have a 401K plan either. As long as you are a warm, living, breathing person with hair on your head (Mark, if you didn't have kids, I'd tell you to stop reading now) then head lice will love you. The only people head lice do not care much for are zombies. So parents, do me a favour and QUIT FEELING EMBARRASSED IF YOUR CHILDREN GET HEAD LICE! Plus, you're making your child feel embarrassed and uneasy about a situation they cannot control.

Still with me? Great, here’s a brownie.

RECOGNITION:  Adult head lice (Pediculus humanus capitatus DeGeer) are tiny, about this à -- ß long (~ 2.4 - 3.7mm) They are also wingless (yes that means they CAN’T fly). They are also, watch out big word coming up, dorsoventrally flattened (flat like a pancake or a flounder (dorso = back, ventral = stomach)). 

And yes it’s important to know how they are built because it will help you distinguish head lice from fleas which are flattened vertically. And proper identification of blood sucking insects makes you look like less of a tool around people who can’t distinguish a roach from a stink bug.

Ok, back to head lice.

These insects vary in color depending on how much they had for breakfast or if they’ve just molted. They can go from a dark brown or black to a greyish/murky yellow color. They have six legs with large claws for grasping around hairs (this means they do NOT jump) and will stick their eggs (nits) to individual hairs on your head, usually near the scalp (this means they do NOT lay their eggs in clothing, on pillow cases or in the bed). Only fleas leave the host to lay their little camouflaged eggs in strategic locations.

Do I have to explain where pubic lice lay their eggs? No? Great. Let’s move on.

Geez, I’m an ex entomologist and all this talk about head lice is even making me scratch my head!

BIOLOGY:  If you've made it this far, you get a free t-shirt and a hug. Ha, just kidding and keep reading!

Head lice live CONTINUOUSLY ON THE HOST and for all practical purposes occur on the head unless they are dislodged by scratching, or towel drying or by exchanging hats, combs, brushes, etc. Also, they cannot survive for very long if they cannot feed, so there's really no need to freak out and sterilize the whole house. But, changing the bedding and washing your child’s favorite stuffed animal and hat/scarf won’t hurt. Besides, they probably need washing anyway. Now, if we were talking about fleas, then we’d have to do some serious cleaning...preferably, with a blow torch. :P

Anyway, female lice lay approximately 50-100 pearly white nits that are about this  à - ß long (0.8mm). That is pretty fricking tiny but it can be seen by the naked eye. And once you’ve spotted them once or twice, they get easier to find. (HINT: If you suspect head lice, the first place to check are the hairs close to the back of the neck, near the scalp). It takes 5 – 10 days for the eggs to hatch and they go through 3 nymphal instars. All that really means is it takes about 3 weeks to complete a life cycle from egg to egg.

TREATMENT:  The most common treatment is the use of a shampoo called a pediculicide and comb out the adults and nits (btw, pediculicide is just a fancy word that means something that kills lice, which is convenient for companies that don’t want to use the evil INSECTICIDE word when referring to a product that’s applied to your child’s head). In any event, you should talk to your doctor first and take into consideration allergies your child may have. But you should be aware that there is no treatment that is 100% safe and effective on 100% of the patients. Read, understand, and please, please, FOLLOW the label. If the product says retreat in 10 days, then DO IT. The increase in resistance is largely due to people not following simple directions. God please don’t get me started on resistance……this post is long enough……

Anyway, the safest way to get rid of head lice is by properly and regularly using a nit comb. But I know that can be time consuming especially if your child has long, thick, and/or curly hair. The choice is yours. As far as oils such as lavender or tea tree oil … I've never found them to be very effective as a deterrent…but that’s my experience and it still may work for you.

SUMMARY: (FUN FACTS!) are you still scratching your head?

  • Head lice do not discriminate and getting them doesn’t mean you are dirty or poor
  • For all practical purposes, head lice remain on the host unless dislodged
  • Head lice do not jump or fly or swim or play air guitar
  • Nits (eggs) are cemented to individual hairs
  • Safest way to remove head lice is with a nit comb
  • Head lice have flattened bodies like a pancake (unlike fleas that look like they got squashed in an elevator (vertically))
  • Call your doctor for treatment options
  • FOLLOW the directions on the product label for treatments
  • Wash bedding and hats/scarves, clean hair brushes and combs etc.
  • And Elliot Grace over at So close, but... added this excellent piece of advice: "The most important rule I've learned...Do Not Panic! Stress can, and will most likely lead to an impatient clean up, promoting a second batch of hatchlings, and another mess."

Adult head lice



  1. thx elise...

    to bug you more: don't forget BEDBUGS...

    there's a MASSIVE influx of them, at least in north america [dunno about europe], with infestations in the BEST of places, like luxury hotels in nyc, and, of course, poor places!

    they don't discriminate, either... and are MORE difficult to eradicate than head lice :(

    1. Ah yes, bed bugs, Cimex lectularius.... I've seen some pretty bad infestations back in the day, hotels mostly. And yes, they don't discriminate and are very difficult to treat. It's very labor intensive, time consuming and costly. That and unlike head lice, they can live much longer without a blood meal, talking many months.... The massive influx is most likely due to resistance. I systematically check my mattress when staying at a hotel. It's a pain, but I sleep better afterwards. We'll never be able to eradicate bed bugs and pest management companies wouldn't want to...

    2. that, and the fact folks are a lot more free to roam the planet, tourism likely the initial source of the infestation...

  2. ...Elise, you had me laughing from the first sentence ;) You sound like a mother at her wits end! (Not to be confused with someone at their NITS end)

    I'm a husband, father, homeowner & foster parent,(and writer ;) who's taken in and housed kids from literally every walk of life, most of them from homes not worth mentioning. Therefore you can imagine the amount of battles waged with head lice under our roof.

    The most important rule I've learned...Do Not Panic! Stress can, and will most likely lead to an impatient clean up, promoting a second batch of hatchlings, and another mess.

    Patience is key. Coconut oil works well on the smaller tots. It doesn't rid the ones that are present, (that's what the nit comb is for,) but deters new ones from nesting. They despise the smell of coconut.

    In two years we've had six kids enter our home with nits, twice having spread to our own kids, (one can imagine the resentment shared in our household over that fiasco.)

    Much like the common cold, lice happens. Stay calm, educate yourself prior to introducing the shears to your little one's scalp, and with patience, all will return to normal once again.

    Great post ;)


    1. Excellent advice Elliot! Keep calm and don't panic! I'll add it to my list. Thanks for commenting, with your background you certainly have the experience. I haven't tried the coconut oil but I'll give it a go next time... because there will be a next time.... (:

  3. I have not yet had to deal with head lice (crazy amazing since I had 7 siblings and we all went to public school) But we did have a flea infestation (thank you cats). That was crazy.

    1. Uggg, fleas..I can imagine the nightmare that must have been to get rid of... I've never personally had to deal with fleas though I've always lived with some kind of domestic animal at the house. I guess that's some crazy trade off. (:

  4. Excellent post, Elise. You sound like me when I get on a soap box. :)

    God please don’t get me started on resistance……this post is long enough……

  5. We were lucky not to have ever gotten lice growing up, and neither did my daughter. But my niece got it so many times I lost count. Thanks for the enlightenment, Elise. Where's my t-shirt and hug?

    P.S. I've given you the Daisy Award - hope you can stop by:)

    1. Your t-shirt and hug are waiting for you! All you need to do is come pick it up. (:

      Thanks a bunch for the Daisy Award. I'm a bit behind in tags and awards...looks like I'm going to have remedy the situation quick.

  6. I'm picturing the lice playing air guitar! LOL.
    Hey, an idea just hit me... you could design an air-guitar-playing lice? louse? for B&R?

    1. That is a great idea. I've been mulling over content for B&R but haven't been inspired much, a louse might be just the thing I need... (: You're the best Michelle!!

  7. A very interesting and informative post. I have a lot of clients who occasionally have to deal with this pest. It's good to be informed about it.

    1. Thanks Michael. You're a good man for stopping by and putting up with my rant on head lice. (:

  8. As a former teacher, I remember the September days of head lice; it was awful! You are correct, getting lice has nothing to do with hygiene, but it would be more fun if they could play guitar :D

    1. Oh, as a teacher then you would
      Air guitar playing lice...if only I could draw.... :D

  9. Thanks for the info. Not fun at any stage, but good to know all the aspects.

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today. It's great to meet you!

    1. Thanks for stopping in and great to meet you too. Loved the post and I'll be back to check back soon. (:

  10. I remember in elemenary school having a nurse come into my class and check all the kids heads for lice. I was terrified I'd be the one told I HAVE lice. Luckily I never did. Talk about motifying for a little kid and the constant coodies jokes. haha But yes, it can hit anyone.

    1. Lol, I remember the nurse coming to check our heads too! Ugggg, I think we all hated that. (:

  11. Hi Elise .. what a good post about lice - I hope many take notice ..

    Just glad I never had lice, nor did we have them at school .. probably too old! But my friends had kids with lice ...

    Cheers Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary, glad you liked the post. You're lucky you never had to deal with the little critters. Here, every year my daughter gets them... it's a pain, but by the time she gets to middle school it should no longer be a problem.

  12. Hi. I remember days of being combed out and my mom, grandmom and aunts would take turns checking our hair whenever there was a report at school about lice. We all had long hair and dreaded this. We were never to share our combs or brushes. Fortunately, my sons never had this problem though they got checked the same as everyone else. Now, my head itches. Rats, the power of suggestion.

    I "clicked" the link over to Gwen's blog on the award post.

    1. Hi Mildred! Thanks for stopping by. Getting checked for lice is never fun. My kids groan when I have to comb through their hair too. Glad your sons have never had to go through them and you know, I was itching all through this post when I wrote it. LOL. And love Gwen, she has a great blog! (:

  13. Elise... sorry you have to deal with this often. My daughter caught lice two times last year and it made me a complete mess. So much stress on the mom, the one who has to make sure every last nit is found and removed. The first time we were uninformed and she had probably had it for three weeks before we treated her; the second time she actually pulled a bug out of her hair at school and then told me about it later that day. Crazy. I do believe what is being said about the bugs becoming resistant... we used a pediculicide the first time and I was still pulling live bugs out after following the directions. The only way to be sure you are done is to use a GOOD nit comb and remove them by hand!

    One good thing that came out of it - a nice (new) workhorse of a vaccum!

    1. I hear you Julie, sounds familiar. And you're absolutely right, the only way to safely and effectively treat for head lice is with a proper nit comb. But at least now you guys are informed, spread the word and good job coming away with a new vacuum! :D

  14. Head lice are a class of parasitic creatures which have the ability to infest on the scalps of people. They are generally transmitted through person-to-person contact but we cannot exclude their chances of being transmitted from other means, such as clothes and hats or caps. Click More


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