They Bite 10 to 12 Million Every  Year

“Returning to school  is always an exciting time for parents and youngsters, but one very common  problem is head lice,” says Leonard Douglen, the Executive Director of the New  Jersey Pest Management Association. “Head lice are known to infest between ten  to fifteen million people nationwide every year.”

“While head lice are  not a pest control problem,” says Douglen, “they are a health problem that  involves a creature that passes easily between school children and which  requires the attention of parents to eradicate because they depend on a blood  meal to live and reproduce.”

Children transmit  lice to one another most commonly during the early fall from August to November,  when they return to school. As a result, infestations are often most noticeable  by December and January as their populations rapidly grow.

“Female lice can lay  six or seven eggs (nits) a day,” says Douglen, “as many as fifty to a hundred in  their short lifetime. Adults cannot survive, however, without a blood  meal.”

The most common way  children pass them along occurs when they share combs, hats, and other personal  belongings. “If a child complains of an itchy head, that’s usually a sure sign  that they have been exposed to lice that are biting,” said Douglen. 

“Lice can be seen  with a careful inspection of a child’s head,” says Douglen, “and the eggs look  like tiny yellow, tan or brown dots before they hatch. When they do hatch, their  shell looks white or clear. Lice lay nits on hair shafts close to the skin’s  surface where the temperature is perfect for keeping them warm until they  hatch.” 

They resemble  dandruff. He recommends using a magnifying glass and a light for better  visibility.

Lice become adults  within one to two weeks and are about the size of a sesame seed and are  grayish-white or tan. “They will take a blood meal several times a day,” says  Douglen, “and can live up to two days off the scalp.”

The most noticeable  response to an infestation is itching and scratching although some children with  less sensitive skin will take several weeks before they begin to scratch the  irritation. 

Beyond warning  children against sharing combs, hats and other items, daily washing and changing  of clothes will help prevent the problem. “When children return to school, a  daily inspection is recommended,” says Douglen. “And as soon as an infestation  is detected, wash all clothes and bedding in hot soapy water, then put them in  the dryer on high heat to kill the lice and eggs.”

There are  over-the-counter creams, lotions, and shampoos that contain permethrin or  pyrethrins (an extract) as active ingredients to kill the adults and nits.  Douglen recommends shampoos as an effective way to eliminate the problem, but  adds that parents should purchase a special fine-toothed comb to aid the removal  process. He reminds parents to soak combs in a lice-killing solution such as  rubbing alcohol after each use.

For children of  pre-school age who may get lice from an older sibling, lice and nits should be  removed by hand. Do not use a medication. “There is no need to  treat furniture and toys with lice sprays because lice cannot live off a host  longer than a few days,” says Douglen, “and for this reason it is not a pest  control problem as in the case of bed bugs.” Lice are highly  contagious and can spread quickly from person to person in group settings such  as schools, childcare centers, slumber parties, sports activities, and  camps.

The New Jersey Pest  Management Association was founded in 1941 and shares joint membership with the  National Pest Management Association. It maintains a website at http://www.njpma.com/ that provides information on a variety of common insect and rodent pests, as  well as member firms located throughout the State.