For your convenience and immediate attention, call 800-381-6331

picture of lice

General Facts

Head lice are tiny insects that live in hair and infest the human head, while body lice mostly infest the chest and torso. The head lice are most common among school-aged children who attend daycare centers, classrooms, and camps, but anyone can get them.

Identification/Appearance

image of head lice
Lice are tiny, fast-crawling insects that measure around the size of a sesame seed. Adults and nymphs are white, grey, or brown in colour.

Their oval-shaped eggs, also known as nits, have grey or yellow colouration and can be smaller than a grain of sand. Often mistaken for dandruff, lice and nits are unaffected by normal shampoos.

View more pictures of lice.

Habitat

While head lice live in hair, body lice live in, clothes, and bedding that is in contact with the human body. They like to hide in seams and folds of cloths that are in contact with the body.

Constant body contact is important for the survival of lice. They cannot survive off the human body for over 48 hours. Lice thrive throughout Canada and can survive temperatures up to 54 degrees Celsius.

Diet

The average head louse feeds on blood every three to six hours. Body lice also feed on blood, leaving behind itchy rashes that may appear thick or discoloured.

Life Cycle/Reproduction

Head lice eggs are laid and cemented to base of hair near the scalp, meanwhile body lice eggs are laid and glued to cloth fiber. The eggs in both cases, hatch after a week and the nymphs molt 3 times before becoming adults.

Adult body lice can live for about 30 days on a host and head lice for about 24 days. Eggs or adults that fall off the body or scalp cannot survive more than two days away from a host.

Both head and body lice are spread and transferred by direct contact with infested hair, hair accessories, clothing, towels, pillows, bedding, and blankets.

Problems Caused by Lice

An affected individual may feel a constant tickling sensation in the hair, behind the ears, or along the neck which can be irritating and distracting. Constant itchiness on the body can cause significant discomfort and stress. Sores and skin infections can occur from scratching infested areas.

While highly contagious, lice do not fly or jump. Their biggest advantage is their speed. They move quickly between hosts in order to spread. Lice are host specific, therefore, pets can’t transfer lice to their owners, or vice-versa.

Detection/Signs of Infestation

An itchy scalp is often one of the first signs of a head lice infestation, but the only way to confirm a problem is to see active insects on someone’s scalp. The obvious sign is the presence of un-hatched eggs (nit) on hair strands, usually at the base of the hair. Intense itchiness around neck, shoulders, under armpits, waist and crotch are signs of body lice infestation.

The presence of tiny nits or eggs does not necessarily suggest an active lice infestation, although they are cause for alarm. Hatched nits are often remnants of past infestations that can blend into the hair’s natural color to remain hidden. The distance of the nits on hair strand from the base of hair in relation hair growth can be used to estimate when an infestation likely occurred.

Prevention Tips

Contrary to popular belief, dirty hair and poor hygiene are not the cause of lice. Anyone can get them simply by brushing up against infested hair or clothing.

Though body lice tend to be more of a problem in overcrowded shared dwellings, poor body hygiene can be a contributing factor.

Check children’s hair often and use a nit comb for efficient removal. Adults that spend time near children should check their hair and clothes regularly. Avoid contact with those who may have lice and wash clothes or bedding in hot water to kill off any active pests.

Control/Removal

While it’s relatively simple to get rid of lice with vigorous cleaning, head lice are much trickier to remove. Medicated shampoos and conditioners are available to treat head lice infestations, but make sure to read and follow the product label instructions closely.