Scratch scratch. Scratch. Your head is feeling really itchy. Could it be lice?
If so, you're not alone. Every year, between 6 and 12 million people worldwide get head lice. Most of those millions are kids. Any kid who goes to school has probably already heard about lice. They can spread easily at schools, so if one kid gets them, the rest of the class might get them, too. What can you do? Let's find out.
What Are Lice?
Lice are very, very small insects. In fact, they are so tiny that you can barely see them! Each louse (the name for one of the lice) is brown and gray and only about the size of a sesame seed.
Lice are parasites (say: pah-ruh-sytes), which means that they live off other living things. Head lice need to be next to skin to survive - and the warmth of your skin is a perfect place for them to live. Lice eat tiny amounts of blood (much less than a mosquito does) for their nourishment and use their sticky little feet to hold on to hair. Gross!
When lice start living in hair, they also start to lay eggs, or nits. Lice can survive up to 30 days on a person's head and can lay eight eggs a day. Lice attach their nits to pieces of hair, close to the scalp. If you see a small, oval blob on a strand of hair, that's probably a nit. If these little eggs are yellow, tan, or brown, the lice haven't hatched yet. If the eggs are white or clear, the lice have hatched.
Although they don't hurt, lice sometimes can irritate the skin and make it itchy (especially at night). Too much scratching can lead to scalp infections.
Life Without Lice
Sure, lice aren't so nice, but there are things you can do to keep them away. To help prevent lice:
- If your friend has lice, don't give the lice any chance to spread to you. Avoid putting your heads together or sharing stuff that could contain lice, such as hats or combs.
- Don't try on hats that belong to other kids.
- Never share a comb, brush, barrettes, or other hair accessories. Use your own, and don't lend them to anyone else.
- Always use your own sleeping bag and pillow when sleeping away from home.
Sharing is usually a great idea - except when you're sharing lice!