What Are Head Lice?
The head louse, or Pediculus humanus capitis, is a parasitic insect that can be found on the head and, more rarely, the eyebrows and eyelashes of people.
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Head lice feed on human blood several times a day (and that's why the scalp itch). They live close to the scalp to maintain their body temperature. They cannot live without a host to feed on for more than 48 hours. Head lice live for about month, and their spans are categorized into three stages; nit (egg), nymph, and adult. Adult female lice attach nits to the hair follicle base via a naturally secreted adhesive. The nits are laid very close to the scalp to provide heat for the incubation of the eggs. Nits are yellowish/grayish, oval-shaped eggs, about 0.8×0.3mm in size (strawberry seed), and they usually hatch within a week to ten days, becoming nymphs. (You can see pictures of authentic lice, nits, and nymphs on our Instagram account the.lice.clinic.seattle). Nymphs look identical to adult lice, except they are slightly smaller and may also be slightly lighter in color. A nymph will shed it’s exoskeleton three times before reaching adulthood within a week of hatching.
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Once reaching adulthood, the louse will require about 5 blood-feedings per day. The adult louse uses it’s claws to pierce the skin, after which it injects saliva and then sucks the blood through it’s mouth. The saliva that injects is primarily responsible for the irritation and itching sensation experienced. Although lice do not swell like many other ectoparasites, they do turn to a darker rust-colored shade after feeding. Despite their small size they can travel fairly quickly, and an adult female louse can lay up to eight nits per day. Since the adult lifespan of a louse is about 3 weeks, this means that a female can lay more than 150 nits in her lifespan, resulting in rapid reproduction and severe infestation if not treated.
Life Span of Head Lice
How do I know I have lice?
Head lice and the nits (eggs) are found only on human's head. You need hair to have head lice because the female lice attach the nits to the hair. They often start laying eggs around and behind the ears and near the neckline at the back of the head.
The actual lice (bugs) are very small and are very fast crawlers, therefore it’s difficult to spot them. We recommend to look for the nits (lice eggs). The nits will be attached to the hair around an inch away from the scalp. Commonly speaking, they look like tiny strawberry seeds attached to the hair. They are graying and not milky white like dandruff. Eggs that are found a few inches away from the scalp are very likely non-viable eggs (dead or empty egg casings). If no live nymphs or adult lice are seen, and the only eggs found are far away from the scalp, the infestation is probably old and no longer active.
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