Honesty time: earlier this summer I caught head lice from my students.
I was working away with a whole bunch of kids when one of our team discovered lice on a kid. We knew that many of the other students were also likely infested. Before moving onto their hair we decided to give the adults a quick check. My colleague started to look through my hair and soon announced ‘Yep, you need to be treated.’ She called over other members of the team to show them the nits (eggs) she’d found in my hair so they knew what to look for. I. Was. Mortified.
We very quickly treated a number of infested staff and students and continued with our camp activities. After returning home I had my hair thoroughly scoured twice more and that was the end of that… or so I thought. A few weeks later I mindlessly scratched my head and there, perched on the tip of my finger, was a bug. THE HORROR!
After the initial desire to shave my head and burn it clean, I had a question. Was this a new infestation or had the first treatment not worked? I knew very little about lice, having not had them since I was a child. I scoured the web for information on lice in adults but found very little and scattered information.
What I did find was that it was much more common than you’d think amongst parents, teachers and childcare providers. We hear very little about it because adults are often too embarrassed to admit that they are affected. Based on the struggle I had getting the correct information, I decided to swallow my own pride and correlate my findings for other teachers and parents. I do completely understand the shame and admit that this is the most difficult article I’ve ever written.
That said, on to it:
Facts About Lice
- Lice cannot fly, swim or jump (contrary to common belief).
- Head Lice are passed through direct head to head contact, or less commonly by sharing headwear or grooming utensils with an infested person.
- Lice don’t care if you’re an adult or child, the only reason adults get them less frequently is because they have less head to head contact.
- Head lice thrive in hot weather, so you are most at risk at summer camps and during back to school.
- Lice are irritating and uncomfortable but pose no significant health risks and do not carry diseases.
- Nits are lice eggs, it takes approximately six to eleven days for nits to hatch into nymphs.
- After hatching, nymphs become adults at around seven days.
- Adult lice can lay between five and ten eggs per day and can live up to 30 days.
How Can You Tell if You Have Lice?
- The only way to be certain is to find a live louse or nits in the hair.
- Nits are white or yellow coloured and are often found around the ears, crown of the head and back of the neck.
- Nits look similar to dandruff but are glued to the hair and are harder to remove.
- Viable nits are usually present within 6mm of the scalp.
- Even if you do not see a live louse does not mean they are not there. Lice move very quickly.
- Some people are allergic to lice bites and may have an inflamed scalp.
- Small scabs can be a sign of biting.
How to Treat Lice in Adults
To the best of my understanding after much research, treating head lice in adults is much the same as treating them in kids. Though many products are marketed for children, they’re often equally effective in adults. Ask your pharmacist for their recommendation and bear in mind the following:
- Products containing Pyrethrin are pesticides that kill both lice and eggs but may not be 100% effective with just one treatment.
- Products containing Permethrin are pesticides only designed to kill live lice but do not kill nits (eggs) and will certainly need more than one treatment.
- Many lice treatments can damage clothes. Bear this in mind before applying treatment.
- Follow the instructions on the packaging to treat hair – bear in mind that these products are pesticides and should not be abused.
- If you are still showing signs of infestation after three treatments with the same product, you may be resistant and need to see a doctor for prescription treatment.
- After rinsing the product from your hair, use a fine toothed nit comb to remove any dead lice and eggs.
- If you comb out any still living lice, try not to panic. Treatment can take 8-12 hours to kill some lice but the fact that they came out on the comb means they are dying and have slowed down.
How to avoid reinfestation
- After treatment, comb dead lice and nits from your hair until the comb is coming out clean.
- After initial treatment, any eggs still in the hair can hatch for up to eleven days but cannot produce new eggs until they are at least seven days old. Re-treating the hair within seven to nine days should reduce the risk or reinfestation.
- Continue to comb the hair every two or three days for three weeks after initial treatment.
- Lice can only survive off the body for one or two days. Nits can survive for one week at cold temperatures and longer at a temperature similar to the human scalp. Both nits and lice are killed at temperatures above 60 degrees centigrade. Wash all clothes and bedding used in the two days prior to treatment on a hot wash and dry cycle.
- If unable to wash clothes at high temperatures, seal in a plastic bag for two weeks.
- Vacuum any surfaces where stray hairs or eggs may have fallen.
- Regularly check your hair if you are working closely with young children.
- If you are a parent, regularly check your child’s hair and if they are infested, check your own.
I hope this information is useful! I found a lot of great information on the CDC too.