If you think African-Americans cannot acquire head lice, think again.
“It’s rare, but Blacks can get head lice. I wouldn’t say they don’t have to worry about it at all. I will say that in my years in the health department and as an IPS nurse, some of the worst cases I’ve seen are in bi-racial children,” said Angela Lovern, registered nurse and public health nurse for the Marion County Health Department.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the head louse is a wingless, gray-colored parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes of people. Head lice, which are only one to two millimeters small, feed on human blood several times a day and live close to the human scalp.
In order to pass from person to person, there must be close contact. Head lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly.
“You know when little kids play and they actually put their heads together? Something like that,” explained Lovern.
Anyone who comes in head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice is at greatest risk. It can also be passed by items such as hats or combs.
Elementary age children are more likely to get head lice than other age groups. Girls have a higher chance of acquiring head lice than boys. Lovern suggests parents keep a watchful eye for intense itching of the scalp.
Symptoms include small, red bumps on the scalp, neck and shoulders. The crown of the head, nape of the neck and around the ears are the most common places to find head lice. Another symptom is tiny white specks (the eggs, also called nits) on the bottom of each hair that are hard to get off.
Head lice mimics dandruff except head lice does not easily brush away. When the louse lays its egg, there’s a cement-like substance that causes the egg to stick to the hair follicle.
To treat lice, lotions and shampoos containing the ingredient permethrin (Nix) often work well. Lovern believes that using a “nit comb” is much more effective. Removing eggs may prevent the lice from returning if the medication fails to kill every one of them.
Infected persons should also thoroughly wash all combs/brushes, clothes and bed linens in hot water with detergent.
“The longer you go, the more bugs you’re going to see. After the egg is laid, it takes seven to 10 days to become an adult. The adult will live another 20 to 30 days if you don’t do anything about it. Each female can lay up to 150 during this period. It becomes exponential,” said Lovern.
There have been reports that head lice are developing resistance to once-effective treatments. Daily manual removal of lice greatly increases one’s chances of getting rid of the nits and lice.
Personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting head lice. Other types of lice include body lice and pubic lice.