CHECK – This section tells you all there is to know about head lice and their impact, as well as explaining the important role of parents in managing this condition, including how and when they should be checking

A heads up on head lice - what are parents checking for?

  • Head lice (Pediculus capitis) are small, six legged wingless insects
  • They live on, or very close to, the scalp and don’t wander far along the hair shaft unless stimulated to move to a new head
  • A head louse’s mouth is like a very small needle, feeding from blood on the head
  • They spread through moderately prolonged head-to-head contact
  • They have a maximum lifespan of a month
  • They range from the size of a full stop to that of a sesame seed depending on their age – adult lice are just 3 to 4 millimetres long
  • At about 10 days old a female louse will start to lay eggs after being fertilised by a male louse – she will deposit between 50 and 150 eggs during her lifetime
  • It is important to note that nits are not the same thing as lice
    • Lice are the insects that move around the head. When it first hatches, a young louse (known as a nymph) is transparent but after its first blood meal, it will darken to a greyish brown colour
    • Louse eggs are translucent which makes them hard to spot – they will be close to the scalp, difficult to see and even harder to remove with a comb
    • Nits are the empty eggshells which remain glued to the hair shafts after the nymphs have emerged

The impact of head lice

  • Anyone can get head lice, although they are most common amongst children aged 4 to 11 due to the greater levels of physical contact with peers
  • Approximately one in ten children in the UK – around one million – may have head lice at any one time
  • The best known symptom of head lice is the itching, which can lead to a loss of concentration and sleep, but this is not necessarily a reliable indicator as many people may not itch when they have head lice
  • Not treating them can lead to a loss of self esteem and confidence, and a general feeling of being unwell
  • Parents should be advised to try not to make too much of head lice – they are unpleasant but they rarely do any serious harm
  • Unsupported, the problem can cause parents and children a great deal of unwarranted anxiety and distress

Actual size of head lice in stages of growth.

They range in size from a full stop to a sesame seed depending on their age.

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