Scott County, Iowa

Skip to Main Content

Main Content:

Questions and Answers about Head Lice

What are head lice?

Head lice are small wingless insects about the size of a sesame seed. They feed on blood and live within the hairy scalp of the body. A head louse (only one insect) can lay up to ten eggs. The eggs are called nits. The nits can be seen along the hair shaft, normally within 1/2 inch from the scalp. They may appear light brown or gray but can vary in color. The most common areas are around the ears and along the back part of the neck.

Where do lice come from?

Head lice are insects that date back many centuries. They do not carry disease.

How does a person get head lice?

Lice can be spread during direct contact with a person who has lice. Sharing brushes, combs or hats can also spread lice. It is estimated that 95% of cases are spread through person-to-person contact while only 5% comes from indirect contact.

Can lice jump?

Lice do not have the ability to jump or to fly. They are active, fast crawling insects. Lice have three strong legs with powerful claws on each side to cling to the hair shaft.

What are the symptoms of head lice?

Often, the first sign is itching at the back of the head and around the ears. Not

everyone will experience itching. If you notice your child repeatedly scratching his or her head, you should examine the head for nits or bugs.

How long does it take for a person to develop symptoms?

It can take up to 2-3 weeks for symptoms to appear. Some people may never develop symptoms.

Should I treat everyone in the family when my child has lice?

No. If you are using a lice shampoo, treat only those persons with confirmed head lice or nits.

Is it necessary to cut my child’s hair in an effort to get rid of lice?

It is not recommended to cut the child’s hair.

Do lice shampoos kill the insects and their eggs?

These products may kill some of the bugs, but do not kill nits.

Can I use pet shampoo?

Animal treatments are not safe or effective.

Do mayonnaise, oil or electronic combs really work in treating this problem?

Some people think these methods were effective in removing nits or bugs, but there is no current scientific evidence to support these practices

What will prevent my child from getting lice?

Nothing - You cannot completely prevent your child from getting lice. You can talk to your child about not sharing personal items with others. Check your child’s head periodically for signs of lice.