What are Head Lice?

April 8, 2016

Head lice are small parasitic insects adapted to living mainly on the scalp and neck hairs of their human host. Head lice are neither able to fly nor jump and as such infestation is caused by direct head to head contact with an infested head. Their presence does not connote a lack of hygiene or sanitation practiced by their host.

Head lice are very miniscule in size, typically 1 – 5mm long. Each of their six legs ends in a very strong claw which gives them a vice-like grip. They use their claws to swing between hair shafts and once settled, they crawl incredibly quickly laying their eggs (nits) on the hair shaft, close to the scalp. Favoured places include the area behind the ears and the nape of the neck.

Head lice need to feed on human blood every six hours or they dehydrate and die. The bites inflicted by head lice while feeding are not painful, however their saliva and faeces can cause an allergic reaction which may result in irritation or itching. However, not every infestation will result in irritation, it is very possible to have head lice and not itch! Without close contact to an infected scalp, head lice are difficult to spread.

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