Head Lice



Head lice are tiny parasites that live, feed, and breed only on the human head.  A typical louse is

2-3 mm long (about the size of a sesame seed), and are usually a reddish-brown color.  Lice only crawl; they cannot hop, fly or jump.  A louse can live on a person for up to 30 days and can live off the head at room temperature for 1-2 days.

Nits (lice eggs) are tiny and oval-shaped (about the size of a poppy seed) and are glued to the shaft of the hair.  They are usually yellowish-white in color.  Nits are found anywhere on the hairs of the head but mainly behind the ears and on the back of the head and neck.  A female louse can lay as many as 100 eggs in her lifetime. 


How do lice spread?

Lice are spread by direct contact.  Examples of this are:

  • Sharing a pillow/bed
  • Hugging or Cuddling (head to head)
  • Sharing hats, scarves, clothes, towels, combs, brushes, headphones, helmets
  • Costumes / Dress-up clothes
  • Sharing stuffed toys
  • Placing hats and coats on top of each other
  • Movie theater seats


How can I tell if my child has head lice?

There may or may not be itching.  Often there are very tiny red bite marks behind the ears and on the scalp, particularly at the back of the neck.  To check your child, make sure you have a very bright light. You may only see white eggs (nits) attached to the hair shaft, usually next to the scalp or along the nape of the neck.  Sometimes these eggs are almost clear, so a magnifying glass can be helpful.  You may or may not see small bugs crawling; they move quickly away from light.  On average, 5-10 lice are on one head.


How can I get rid of the lice infestation?

Once lice are detected on one family member, the whole family needs to be checked.  Your physician or pharmacist can recommend an over-the-counter treatment, such as Rid or Nix.  Success of the treatment will depend on carefully following the instructions.  Home remedies are usually ineffective and sometimes reduce the effectiveness of lice removal products.  Do not use the shampoo more frequently than recommended.  After treatment, while hair is still wet, divide the hair in small sections.  Using a fine tooth lice comb, go through each section from the scalp to the end of the hair, removing all nits and live lice. The comb should be cleaned with hot, soapy water before use on different individuals.  Daily head checks and daily lice/nit removal should continue for 2 weeks.


Important:   Repeat lice treatment 7-10 days later, to kill any newly hatched lice.  Daily head checks for all family members are important and should be continued until everyone has been clear of lice for 2-3 weeks.


What about the household?

Wash bedding, linens, and recently worn clothes and stuffed toys. Dry items in the dryer on the hot setting.

Vacuum the house, furniture, and car.  (discard vacuum cleaner bag in outdoor garbage.)

Combs and brushes should be washed with hot, soapy water – or run through the dishwasher.

Dry-clean unwashables or put in sealed plastic bag for 2 weeks.

The use of sprays, fumigating agents, and bug bombs are highly discouraged.


If you have questions, please call your health care provider or our District Nurse, Brie Leiblein RN at

503-668-8011, x7802.

Online resource: www.headlice.org