Head Lice & Bed Bugs

  • Head lice are a common problem for children in schools and child care.  Anyone can get head lice.  Head lice are not a sign of uncleanliness and head lice do not spread disease.


    Head lice are very small (less than 1/8 inch long), tan colored insects which live on human heads.  They lay their eggs (called nits) on the hair close to the scalp and the nits are attached to the hair by a strong "glue-like" substance which makes it hard to remove the nits.  The nits are tiny (about the size of a pencil dot) and grey or white in color.


    Head lice are annoying parasites that feed on small amounts of blood once or more often each day.  The bite does not hurt but can cause itching and scratching.  Once hatched, lice can survive for up to 30 days.


    Lice are spread primarily by direct, head-to-head contact with an infested individual.  Indirect spread through sharing of personal items such as combs, brushes, barrettes, hats, scarves, jackets, blankets, sheets, and pillows is less likely but possible.


    Lice do not jump or fly.  They crawl and can fall off the head.  Head lice do not live longer than 48 hours off the human head. They only lay their eggs while on the head.  Nits which are more than 1/2 inch from the scalp are dead or empty and will not hatch.  The eggs do not hatch if they fall off the head. Lice do not spread to or from pets.


    It takes 7-10 days from when the eggs are laid until they hatch.  Lice can spread as long as there are live lice on the head.


    Prevention:   Young children frequently come into close head to head contact while playing.  Children can be taught to not share personal items such as combs and hats.  When children are scratching their heads, adults can check for head lice.  Affected children should be treated promptly.


    Treatment:    Special lice shampoo or crème rinse which will kill the lice can be purchased in the drug store or obtained by prescription from your clinic.  Download the "Lice Removal Pamphlet," located at the bottom of this page.


    Natural alternative methods for controlling lice include: coating all the hair with petroleum jelly (or other smothering agents) by massaging the entire surface of the scalp and hair and leaving on overnight.


    Manual removal of lice and nits with louse or nit combs is proposed by some as an effective but time-consuming method of treatment.  More often, it is proposed as an additional treatment to use with alternative methods or chemical lice shampoos and crème rinses.


    Combs, brushes, and other hair accessories should be cleaned with hot soapy water.  Launder recently worn clothing, bedding, and towels.  Vacuuming carpets, furniture, mattresses, and car seats may control the spread of head lice.  Insecticide or lice killing sprays are not recommended.  Specific directions for laundering and home control measures can be found in the “Lice Removal Pamphlet” located at the bottom of this page.


    Ten Steps to staying ahead of Lice (from the National Pediculosis Association)

    Watch for signs of head lice, such as frequent head-scratching.  Anyone can get lice . . . from another person or from sharing hats, brushes, combs, etc.

    1.        Check all family members for lice and nits (lice eggs) at least once a week.  (It helps to use natural light and a magnifying glass.)
    2.        Treat only those family members who do have lice.  Buy a lice product at you drug store, the pharmacy section of your foodstore or call your doctor for a prescription.  You may also ask your school nurse.
    3.        Follow package directions carefully!  Use the product over the sink (not in the tub or shower).  Keep the eyes covered with a washcloth.
    4.        Call your doctor first if you are pregnant, nursing, or allergic to weeds, plants, etc.  Never use a lice product on your baby!
    5.        Remove all nits (which will stay on the hair after treatment).  This is essential!  You can do this with a special lice comb, scissors, or your fingernails.
    6.        Wash sheets and recently worn clothing in hot water and dry in a hot dryer.  Combs and brushes may be soaked in hot (not boiling) water for 10 minutes.
    7.        Vacuuming is the safest and best way to control lice on mattresses, rugs, furniture, and stuffed animals.
    8.        Continue to check heads every day for 2 - 3 weeks to make sure head lice are gone.  Regular checking is the best prevention.
    9.        When you find a case of lice, tell others!  Call your child's school or daycare.  Notify neighborhood parents.


    Head Lice Basics - MN Dept. of Health

    Head Lice - American Academy of Pediatrics

    Lice Removal Pamphlet (Rev. 2008)

    Guia Para el Tratamiento Y La Prevencion de los Piojos (2008)

    Head Lice identification products and services - IdentifyUS, LLC (includes info on bed bugs and ticks also)


    Bed Bug Information: