Head Lice

Head Lice

Public Health Fact Sheet

What are Head Lice?
Head Lice are small insects, about the size of a sesame seed. They live on the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes of humans. Head Lice feed on human blood several times a day.  They cause itching (caused by an allergic reaction to the bites). Head Lice are not known to spread disease. 

How is Head Lice spread?
Head Lice move by crawling, they cannot jump or fly. They are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infected person or by sharing personal items like hats, brushes, hair accessories, coats, towels or bedding. Lice can also be spread by placing your head on furniture or car seats that were recently used by someone with lice. Theater seats, airline seats, and head phones are commonly linked to the spread of insects like lice.

How is Head Lice treated?
NIX, a synthetic permethrin 1% is currently the treatment recommended for Head Lice. Follow directions carefully. Re-treat according to manufacturers recommendations, usually 7-10 days after initial treatment if newly hatched lice are found. After lice treatment, the nits (eggs) should be removed using a fine tooth nit comb. Comb daily for three weeks until no nits are found. After treatment, machine wash (in hot water) all items used two days before lice were discovered. These items include towels, coats, sheets, pillow cases, clothes, toys, car seat covers, etc. Machine dry items in hot dryer for at least 30 minutes. Head Lice can also be killed by placing objects at below freezing temperatures for 24 hours or by sealing them in plastic bags for 14 days at room temperature. Combs and brushes can be cleaned by soaking in hot water (above 130 degrees F) for 10 minutes or by soaking them Lysol, rubbing alcohol or lice shampoo for one hour. Vacuum daily bare mattresses, couches, chairs, floors, pillows, carpeting, and car upholstery.

Can Head Lice be prevented?

Do not share personal items such as brushes, combs, hats, etc. Place hats and scarves in coat pockets when not in use. Notify schools, day cares, and parents of playmates to alert for additional cases.

Additional information is available on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/

Symptoms of Head Lice

  • Itching, especially around the ears and back of the neck
  • Irritability or trouble sleeping - Head Lice are most active at night
  • Head Lice do not cause disease, but infection may develop at scratch sites
  • Finding live lice (they are very small, fast and avoid light so can be hard to spot)
  • Finding nits attached to the hair approximately 1/4 inch from the scalp

February 2020