Answering common questions about head lice

Head lice are most often found on the scalp, particularly near the neckline and the back of the head as well as behind the ears.

By MCC

Head lice is most often associated with children. In fact, many people’s lone experience with head lice is getting lice tests as a school child. But lice can affect people of any age, which answers just one of many commonly asked questions about head lice.

What are head lice?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a head louse is a parasitic insect that feeds on human blood several times a day.

Where are head lice found?

Head lice live close to the human scalp, but they are not only found on top of the head where people tend to have the most hair. The CDC notes that head lice also can be found in eyebrows and eyelashes. However, head lice are most often found on the scalp, particularly near the neckline and the back of the head as well as behind the ears.

How are head lice spread?

Head lice cannot hop or fly; they move by crawling and are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person. As a result, people who come into head-to-head contact with someone who has head lice are at the greatest risk of getting lice. Lice can be spread via contact with clothing, including hats, scarves or coats, or personal items like combs or towels used by an infested person. However, the CDC notes that such spreading is uncommon.

What are the symptoms of head lice infestation?

A head lice infestation may produce various symptoms. People with head lice may notice a tickling feeling of something moving in their hair. The CDC notes that the bites of the head louse may cause an allergic reaction that leads people to feel an itchiness in their scalp. Scratching such itches can lead to the development of sores on the head. These sores may be susceptible to infection due to bacteria on an infected person’s skin. Head lice are most active in the dark, so an infestation may make it difficult for people to sleep.

How are head lice found?

Head lice are small and they avoid light, so it can be hard to see them with the naked eye. As a result, the CDC advises people who suspect they or a loved one has head lice to use a magnifying glass and a fine-toothed comb to examine the scalp. If no lice are found but symptoms persist, visit a health care provider who is trained to detect head lice.

Do head lice spread disease?

While it’s important that anyone diagnosed with head lice prioritize treatment, the CDC notes that head lice are not known to spread disease. But scratching an itchy infestation can lead to secondary skin infections, so it’s important to get treated, which often involves the application of an over-the-counter prescription medication.

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