Head lice spread like room temperature butter, and the way these pests reproduce makes it very difficult to treat an infestation. Knowing the stages of head lice arms hosts of an infestation with the information needed to not only remove the existing lice population, but also to prevent bouts of head lice from reoccurring in the future.
The Spread of Lice
Lice spread via direct contact, which is why lice outbreaks are so common in school-aged children. It is also worth noting that people with clean hair are every bit as susceptible to lice as people with dirty hair. Some doctors believe that lice prefer a scalp that is clean and free of debris because it is easier for them to move and feed in. Lice can be found in an infected individual’s clothing, furniture, bedding, brushes, and anything else that comes into contact with the hair. It only takes a few adult lice to lay eggs in a person’s hair to start a lice infestation.
Eggs and Nymphs
Lice eggs are frequently referred to as nits. Lice eggs are laid near the scalp, and are practically glued to the hair shaft. Nits are the most difficult of the stages of head lice to remove. Lice eggs take anywhere between 6 and 7 days to hatch. Hatchlings are referred to as “nymphs,” which are unable to reproduce. Nymphs are not seen crawling along the hair of a host. During the early stages, lice stay very close to the scalp to feed and stay safe. Nymphs molt 3 times over the course of 17 days. After the third molt, lice are considered adults and are capable of reproducing.
Adulthood and Reproduction
The last of the stages of head lice is adulthood. Females are bigger than males, but adult lice range in length between 1/18” and 1/16”. Adults can be gray or dark brown in color. Adults can be seen all throughout an infected person’s hair, not just near the scalp like nymphs and nits. Adult females begin laying eggs 2 days after mating, and can continue to lay as many as 7 eggs a day during the next 16 days, after which time the adult female dies. The frequency at which eggs are laid ensures a steady lice population. In all, a louse lives for between 35 and 40 days.
Treating Head Lice
Because the stages of head lice are structured so that nymphs are constantly hatching, a multi-faceted strategy is best for treating these pests. Prescription lice treatments contain chemicals that are harsh on the skin. To start, a natural shampoo and conditioning system should be used to kill adults, nymphs, and eggs. After treatment, an all-natural lice repellent spray should be applied to bedding, furniture, clothing, and other personal items to help guard against future infestations. It is also recommended that hosts undergo a second treatment 7 to 10 days after the initial treatment.
Understanding the stages of head lice makes it easier to treat the infestation. It is also important to make sure that all home furnishings and carpets have been thoroughly cleaned, as lice can lay eggs in fabrics as well as hair.