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Head Lice

The public health department does not provide diagnosis (head checks) or treatment for head lice infestation.
   
What are head lice?
Head lice are parasitic insects found on the heads of people. Head lice is common. As many as 6-12 million people worldwide get head lice each year.
   
Who is at risk for getting head lice?
Anyone who comes in close contact with somehow who already has head lice, contaminated clothing, and other belongings is at risk of getting head lice. Preschool and elementary-age children, 3-10, and their families are infested most often. Girls get head lice more often than boys. In the United States, African Americans rarely get head lice.
   
What do head lice look like?
There are three forms of head lice.
  
NIT: Nits are head lice eggs. They are hard to see and are often confused for dandruff or hair spray droplets. Nits are found firmly attached to the hair shaft. They are oval and usually a grayish-brown color before they hatch and a yellow to white color after hatching. 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 human blood.
   
ADULT: The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, has six legs, and is tan to grayish-white. In persons with dark hair, the adult louse will look darker. 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 human blood. If the louse falls off a person, it usually dies within 2 days.
   
Where are head lice found?
On the scalp, behind the ears, and near the neckline at the back of the neck. Head lice hold on to hair with hook-like claws. Head lice are rarely found on the body, eyelashes, or eyebrows.
   
What are the signs of infestation?
Feeling of something moving in the hair. Itching, caused by an allergy to the bites. Irritability. Sores on the head caused by scratching. These sores can sometimes become infected.
   
How did my child get head lice?
By contact with an already infested person. Contact is common during play at school and at home (slumber parties, sports activities, at camp, on a playground). By wearing infested clothing, such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, or hair ribbons. By using infested combs, brushes, or towels. By lying on a bed, couch, pillow, carpet, or stuffed animal that has recently been in contact with an infested person.
   
How is head lice infestation diagnosed?
By looking closely through the hair and scalp for nits, nymphs, or adults. If you are not sure if a person has head lice, the diagnosis should be made by a health care provider, school nurse, or someone who has been trained on how to recognize head lice. For more information on identifying head lice and treatment options, please call 724-1209.
       

Additional Resources

Head Lice Treatment Checklist

Head Lice Oil Treatment Instructions

Michigan Head Lice Manual