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What are head lice?

Head lice are tiny wingless insects that live on the head and scalp of people, especially children. They are 1/16 to 1/8 inch in length, which is about the size of a sesame seed, and vary in color from tan to gray/white.

What are nits?

Nits are lice eggs that are very tiny and difficult to see. They vary in color from yellowish-brown to pearly white and are teardrop shaped.

When are head lice a problem?

Head lice don’t carry disease, but they are bothersome. Head lice cause itching and irritation of the scalp. It takes time and patience for parents to treat and remove lice and nits from their child’s hair. Treatment can be an added expense, and it is extra work to wash clothing and bedding. Head lice are spread easily among children and can continue to spread until the live lice are gone.

Key Points:

  • Anyone can get head lice, regardless of personal hygiene or environment.
  • Lice require blood to live. Off the scalp, head lice rarely survive beyond two days.
  • Pets cannot get or spread human head lice.
  • Lice are not able to fly or hop, but they can crawl from head to head when children are in close contact.

Limit the Spread

  • Avoid head-to-head contact during an infestation.
  • Avoid sharing combs, brushes, hair-ties, ear buds or headphones, bed sheets, blankets, hats, dress-up clothes, and costumes.
  • Learn to recognize nits and other signs of head lice. Regularly check children’s hair when there’s a known case of head lice in your program.
  • Children with an active infestation need treatment. Treating all infested children at the same time will prevent further spread and re-infestation.

Monitoring and Management

  • Talk to parents about how important it is to follow through with treatment at home.
  • Household members and other close contacts of children with head lice should be checked and treated if necessary.
  • Refer parents to their child’s primary care provider for advice about head lice treatment and nit removal.
  • Wash clothes (including hats and scarves) and bedding in very hot water. Soak combs and hair brushes in hot (149°F) water for at least an hour. Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture in rooms used by anyone with head lice.
  • Communicate closely with families in your program.

For more information and support, please contact your local IdahoSTARS Child Care Health Consultant.