What do they look like?
Most pamphlets you pick up on headlice will have nice, friendly cartoon pictures of headlice, or no pictures at all. We've included some enlarged pictures of actual lice & nits, so you know what you're looking for:
HEADLICE are usually white to grey in colour, with a dark stripe down the centre of their body. They are about the size of a sesame seed (approx. 2mm), with six legs & two "spiracles", or antennae, on their head. As they can run away, they are usually harder to find than nits.
NITS are the eggs of headlice. They are usually oval-shaped, little bigger than a pinhead (approx. 1mm) & cream to coffee in colour. "Fresh" or newly laid nits are found next to the scalp at the base of the hair shaft.
Reproduced with permission of National Pediculosis Association
Now that we know what we're looking for, let's get rid of some common "myths & misconceptions" surrounding headlice:
MYTH - Having headlice is a sign of poor hygiene!
FACT - Headlice aren't that fussy. Clean, dirty, short, straight, curly - all they want is blood! In fact, if you think about it logically, it is probably easier for headlice to move around in clean hair - without bits of dirt/dandruff to climb over!
MYTH - You can catch headlice from birds & other animals!
FACT - Human headlice are "host specific" - they feed off the blood beneath the human scalp alone.
MYTH- Lice can jump & fly from head to head!
FACT- Lice have no wings (so they can't fly) & they can't jump, either. They spread by "scurrying" from head to head, or affected item to head (e.g. brushes, hair clips, hats etc).
MYTH - Lice can survive a long time off the head, waiting for the next hapless "victim!"
FACT - A well fed louse should only last up to 2 days off a human host, depending on when it last had a meal. During this time, it generally will not lay any eggs ("nits").
MYTH - Headlice live for months - that's why they're so hard to get rid of!
FACT - Headlice live for 4 - 5 weeks from nit (egg) to adult louse. Females lay 4 -5 nits per day in the last two weeks of their lives.