Children with or suspected to have head lice are often exposed to unpleasant reactions from others. The mere scratching by a child may lead to rejection and bullying on suspicion of head lice infestation, especially on occasions, when their parents are not around. Think of yourself: would you let your children play with children whom you know have lice? You would probably think twice. And so would others.

Indonesia has offered its population (by ranking in size the World’s No. 4) for decades only one registered product of a pesticide-based head lice treatment. It is important to know that head lice become immune to chemical substances intended to poison them, after they have been used extensively over longer periods of time.

The absence of alternative head lice treatment products, of published data as to such product’s efficacy vs. immunity (resistance) build-up by head lice over time, the near absence of a dedicated, credible local source of information on how to detect, treat and prevent head lice; created a void that was filled over time by stigma against those affected by head lice. Stigma borne out of fear of many uncertainties (how contracted, how to treat, will they ever go away, how will my environment respond) or the desire to protect one’s own family falsely attribute head lice infestations to social class stereotypes or hygiene routines. This adds significant additional social and psychological stress to the burden of the infestation affected population. It also created the ‘denial biotope’ as perfect breeding ground for head lice to spread successfully.

Facts About
Head Lice

Size and Looks

Head lice are small (3 mm at the maximum, larvae even less than 1 mm) insects that live and breed exclusively on the scalp and in the hair of humans.

A head louse egg is around the size of a pinhead and translucent, white, yellow-brown or chocolate-brown in color. Empty egg sacs are white and shiny and may be found further along the hair shaft as the hair grows out.

Life Cycle

A head louse’ life cycle lasts a maximum of 35 days from the time the egg (nit) has been laid until it perishes.

7 -10 days after a nit attached to hair is laid, a nymph will hatch leaving the empty nit shell in that very place, where it was glued to the hair.

A nymph is an adolescent / juvenile louse, which will molt (shed its skin) three times while growing into an adult louse over a period of 9-10 days.

A female adult head louse pairs with a male head louse just hours into its adult life, and it only needs to do this once in its life time, to reproduce its kind by laying between 50 and 150 nits during the rest of its life span.

Head lice live and nits are laid generally in very close proximity to the scalp (about 1 cm), commonly behind the ears and the back of the neck.

How and how often do head lice feed?

Head lice (both nymphs and adult lice) can only survive on human blood. Head lice feed from the scalp every 2 to 3 hours day by piercing the scalp with their beak-like mouthparts, injecting saliva to prevent the blood from clotting while extracting blood directly from the bite through the louse’s head into its intestines.

Feeding on the blood of humans makes head lice parasites and humans their host.

A head louse will typically die of dehydration after approximately 2 days when separated from its host (depending also on other factors such as temperature and sun exposure).

How do head lice move around?

Head lice do not have wings and thus cannot fly.

The relative size of head lice’s legs in relation to the center of its body weight does not allow head lice to jump.

Head lice have claws on each of their six legs allowing them to cling to 6 hairs at the same time. This and their generally very close proximity to the scalp makes it hard to comb head lice out from the hair.

Head lice can move fast in relation to their body size. An adult louse can crawl the distance of 23 cm in a minute

How do head lice spread?

Head lice spread by personal contact (in particular hair-to-hair contact), as well as by sharing belongings. Lice can be transferred by brushes, combs, barrettes, headbands, headphones, hats, helmets and so forth. They can also live for a time on upholstered furniture, bedding, towels, or clothing.

It is typically female head lice after having paired with a male that spread through hair-to-hair contact. This makes children most susceptible from playing close together and sharing items which touch their heads. There is also an increased risk of head lice for family members of school aged children. Having head lice is not a sign of dirtiness or poor hygiene. The pesky little insects can be a problem for kids of all ages and socioeconomic levels, no matter how often they do — or don’t — wash their hair or bathe. It also doesn’t matter how long or short a person’s hair is. People, who work in a daycare, preschool, or elementary school share this risk. No one is immune and anyone can get head lice.

Do head lice spread diseases?

Head lice spread from person to person, but do not spread disease. Head lice are a nuisance, but not considered a health risk.

Common symptoms of head lice infestations

Itching,
The most common symptom, is caused by a person’s immune response to the saliva from head lice bites. Itching may not occur right away, depending on a person’s sensitivity and history of lice infestation. The first time a person is infested with lice, it may take several weeks or months for itching to start or to be noticed. In a repeat case, a person may begin to itch within 2 days of infestation because the immune system may react more quickly when exposure had occurred before. Some people become very sensitive to lice bites and have unbearable itching. Others build up tolerance to the bites and have little or no itching, even with repeated infestations. After treatment and when the lice have gone, it may take 2-3 weeks for the itch to go fully. Nits may remain after lice have gone. Empty eggshells stick strongly to hair and will eventually fall out. A very fine-toothed comb can remove them.

Crawling sensation,
the feeling of something crawling on the hair or scalp.

Scratching,
which can lead to scalp and sometimes the back of the neck becoming red and irritated.

Swollen lymph nodes,
(also referred to as “glands”) in the neck.

Seeing lice or finding lice eggs,
Live head lice may look like light-brown sesame seeds crawling on the hair, skin, or clothing.

Irritability and trouble sleeping,
Lice are more active in the dark.