Lice Facts, Identification and Control
Scientific Order: Phthiraptera
Common Family: Pediculus humanus capitis, most commonly known as the head louse
Common Species in New York: Humans are capable of hosting three different varieties of louse, all of which can be found in New York: the head louse, the body louse, and the pubic louse.
- Size: Between 2 and 4.2 millimeters in length, with small, flat bodies. About the size of a sesame seed.
- Color: Varies between whitish to various shades of grey and brown. May look translucent or almost clear.
- All lice have distinctive hook-like claws at the ends of each of their legs.
- Head lice do not have wings and cannot fly or even hop. Instead, they use their hooks to cling to hair follicles.
- Lice spread only by coming into direct contact with their host's hair or clothing. They most commonly access new hosts either by transferring after direct contact between two people, or after a host shares an article of clothing (such as a hat or scarf) with another person.
- Lice are temperature and light-sensitive and tend to prefer dark, warm environments.
- All three species of common louse feed on blood exclusively. These lice are blood-feeders through every developmental stage of their lives, from when they hatch to when they die.
- Head lice bite skin multiple times a day to feed.
- Head lice cannot survive more than two days without a blood meal. If they're removed from a host, they will starve relatively quickly.
- Head lice are the most commonly found variety of louse in human infestations. These lice infest their host's scalp by climbing through their hair follicles with their hook-like claws.
- Head lice are most commonly found near the hairline at the base of the neck or behind the ears, where they can keep warm.
- Lice don't like direct light, so they will stay close to your hairline where they can easily retreat to darkness if exposed.
- Body lice make their homes in the fabric of clothing instead of directly on the scalp or skin. They are less likely to flourish or reproduce because the average person doesn't wear the same clothing every day. They'll also die when you put the infested clothing through the washing machine or dryer.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
- A single louse has an approximate 30 day lifecycle from the time the egg is laid until the time the adult louse dies.
- Lice reproduce sexually and are capable of reproduction within ten hours of reaching adulthood. Once adulthood has been reached, their main priority becomes reproduction.
- A single female head louse can produce 50 to 100 eggs in her lifetime, whereas body lice can lay more than 200 eggs. Slight variations on these details occur within different varieties of louse, but as a general thumb this applies to all commonly found iterations.
Signs of Infestation
- Unlike many other varieties of pest, lice are going to give distinct physical symptoms, the most common of which being intense itching on either the body or scalp.
- If you have lice, you are also likely to have sudden unexplained rashes caused by slight or severe allergic reaction to their saliva from bites.
- Additionally, red bumps, or scar tissue build-up if they've been around for an extended amount of time.
- Their small, round, white eggs - or nits - are another sign. They can be found by going through hair or clothing using a clean comb and making a thorough visual inspection.
Treatment and Prevention
- If you believe you have lice in your home, the first thing you're going to want to do is remove them from your person with the use of a nit comb.
- If this comb isn't enough, you can visit a doctor's office for medicated shampoo to help kill any that are left on your scalp.
- Body lice can be removed through a very thorough and hot shower with scrubbing.
- During any sort of definite or potential lice infestation, all in-home linens need to be washed using hot cycles.
- “Head Lice.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/.
- “Head Lice Facts 101.” Hair Fairies, www.hairfairies.com/head-lice-facts-101/.
- “Lice.” Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lice/symptoms-causes/syc-20374399.