Besides just living in your hair, lice can also find ways to inhabit the clothing you wear.
If the clothing is worn repeatedly without washing, it might be the ideal place for nits to hatch and the louse larvae to mature. If a living human, ready to furnish blood, is putting on the same clothes day after day, the louse has a built-in life of ease.
So dealing with body lice is really just an issue of hygiene. Simply washing your clothing and bedding regularly you can completely avoid the problem.
The life cycle of lice have 3 distinct stages: egg, nymph and adult.
Lice Eggs (Nits)
Lice eggs are called nits (hence the term, nit picking). The are small (0.8mm by 0.3mm), oval shaped and ussually a yellowish white. Their small size makes them hard to see, and many times they are confused for dandruff.
When the nits are laid by the female louse they are ‘cemented’ to the base of a shaft of hair. This securely holds the egg in place. Nits are usually found attached within 6mm of the scalp.
The nits take about a week to hatch (between 6 and 9 days).
When a nit hatches it releases a nymph. The remaining egg shell becomes easier to see as it turns a dull yellow. It still remains attached to the hair shaft.
Nymphs look very similar to adult lice, just smaller. They are about the size of a pinhead.
Over a 7 day period after hatching the nymphs will mature and molt 3 times, after which time they are considered adults.
An adult louse is about the same size as a sesame seed. Each of their 6 legs has claws that are specialty adapted to grab and hold hairs. Adult lice will be a tan to grayish-white color. Interestingly, in individuals with darker hair, the adult louse will appear darker. Female lice tend to be larger then the males and can lay up to 8 nits a day.
Adult lice live for up to 30 days.
Information Source: US Center for Disease Control (CDC)
Having lice problems? Check out our handy guide to get rid of lice.
Getting rid of lice requires determination, equipment, and concerted effort. You probably will need some help, at least for the hair lice. Find some sympathetic soul who has the time to do a thorough job in helping you.
First get rid of the nits. If you soak the scalp with dish detergent it will loosen the cement that holds the nits to the hair.
Then with a metal nit brush, obtainable at the pharmacy, carefully go over all the hair next to the scalp, thoroughly removing all the nits. Expect that you do not see them all and cover all the scalp. If the hair is thick, repeat the whole procedure.
Then, use a preparation that will kill all of the living lice left behind in the nit cleaning process. Clean up all the places where you have put your head and hair such as pillows and other bedding, hats and scarves and regular clothing. Thoroughly launder all such items. Use the louse-killing preparation in all of these places. It is hard to be too thorough.
A week later, repeat the entire procedure. This may do the job, but don’t be too sure. Keep careful watch for tell-tell signs that you didn’t get all the lice. If they show up again, repeat the two week treatment.
The following are closeup lice pictures.
While no one really likes to look at pictures of lice, these should help you identify lice eggs (called nits) and the actual louse itself so you can better deal with them.
A Nit (a lice egg)
This picture shows a nit attached to a hair.
The following picture of lice shows an adult louse in someones hair.
And another picture showing lice at different stages of age.
What do the Lice Eat?
Lice feed off small quantities of the blood of their host. This feeding causes the itching sensation. Adult lice need to feed several times a day.
If a louse gets separated (falls off, gets knocked off) from their host they can only survive a day or two before they die.
So Where do You Find Lice?
Pretty much anywhere. Head lice infestations are common and can occur anywhere in the world. Lice are a particular problem among preschool and elementary aged children (age 3 – 11).