Head lice are small, parasitic insects that live in hair and feed off blood. They are a common problem, particularly in school children, but there are ways of avoiding them.

Lice, plural for louse, are a type of parasite that feed off human blood. There are three types of louse that may occur in humans:

  • head lice or Pediculus humanus capitis
  • body lice or Pediculus humanus corporis
  • pubic lice or Pthirus pubis

Body lice are the only species of louse that can carry disease. However, it is important for people to avoid lice infestations of any kind, as they spread easily and may be difficult to get rid of. Lice may also be expensive to treat, with head lice treatment costing around $500 million in the United States every year.

This article focuses on head lice and outlines seven different methods of preventing them.

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Head lice travel by crawling across the hairs on a person’s head. They typically move at a rate of 23 cm per minute and they cannot jump or fly. People are most at risk from lice through direct hair-to-hair contact, which may occur during school, play, or at home.

Head lice infestations affect mostly children between 3-12 years old and they typically affect more girls than boys.

It is unclear whether lice can travel on materials such as pillowcases or clothing, but some research indicates that this may be a small risk.

Pets do not spread any of the three types of lice that affect people. Additionally, cleanliness does not affect a person’s chances of developing a head louse infestation.

A person may be able to prevent contracting and spreading head lice in several ways.

Avoid hair-to-hair contact

The main way to prevent head lice is to avoid head-to-head, and resultingly hair-to-hair, contact. This includes minimizing contact with others during:

  • play
  • activities at home
  • school
  • work
  • sports activities
  • camp
  • slumber parties

Wash clothing and bedding on a high heat

To decontaminate clothes and bed linens, a person should machine wash items at a minimum of 130°F and use a high heat drying cycle to dry them afterward.

A person may also decontaminate items by sealing and storing them in a plastic bag and leaving them for 2 weeks.

These actions should kill any living lice as well as their eggs, which people call nits.

Vacuum the floor or furniture

Carpets are not likely to pose any risk of transporting lice. However, to minimize the chances of lice spreading, people may vacuum areas of the floor or furniture where a person with a possible louse infestation has been sitting.

Do not share combs or brushes

If a person thinks they may have a head louse infestation, they should not share towels, combs, or brushes. To disinfect combs and brushes, a person should soak them in hot water that is at least 130°F for 5-10 minutes.

Do not share headgear

If a person thinks they may have lice, they should not share headgear, such as hair bows or hats, with others. People may find it is safest to avoid sharing headgear altogether.

Do not share clothing

A person who thinks they may have lice should not share scarves, coats, or other items of clothing that may come into contact with their head or hair.

Do not use fumigants

Fumigant sprays and fogs are not necessary for a person to treat head lice. Additionally, they can be toxic for people if they enter the body through the airways or skin.

Head lice are not generally a major health hazard and they do not transmit diseases between people. Most complications that may come from having head lice are social, as they may cause embarrassment or cause children to miss out on school.

In some cases, lice infestations can cause knock-on effects if a person scratches their scalp as a result of itchy louse bites. Excessive scratching may cause a person to experience difficulty sleeping and concentrating. In some cases, scratching may expose a person’s skin to infection.

The main role of healthcare professionals regarding lice is to provide information and help to reduce any anxiety that a person may feel if they have lice. People should remember that having lice is not an indication of uncleanliness.

Treatments for head lice are typically available over the counter in the U.S. However, some head louse treatments are only available on prescription. A person should contact a healthcare professional to find out which treatments are most suitable for them.

A louse is a parasitic insect that feeds on blood. There are three types of lice that live off humans. These are body lice, pubic lice, and head lice.

Head lice do not pose any major hazards to a person’s health and they do not carry any diseases. However, they may cause social complications like children missing school or feelings of embarrassment. Head louse bites may also cause a person’s head to itch.

Lice transmit between people by crawling across hairs. The main way to prevent a louse infestation is to avoid head-to-head, or hair-to-hair contact.