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Head lice can happen to anyone

Most people would probably be willing to tell you they have cancer before they would admit to a case of head lice.

But Nevada County Public Health Nurse Denise Buglino said head lice show no socioeconomic preferences.

“It affects all humans,” Buglino said. “They don’t distinguish between hairstyles, and it doesn’t matter if the head is clean or not. They’re looking for a blood source.”



According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pre-school and elementary-age children get head lice most often and end up spreading it to family members. Girls and women get it more often than boys and men.

The lice are spread by people who have head-to-head contact or when lice are left on shared objects like combs, hats, coats, brushes, towels or furniture.




The National Pediculosis Association (pediculosis is the scientific term for head lice infestation) said that head lice do not fly or jump, because they lack wings or back feet. The affliction is also not caused by dogs or cats, the association said, because head lice are human parasites and cannot survive on pets.

Buglino said head lice are not epidemic in Nevada County, but they do show up “when kids are together,” like at the beginning of the school year. If a child does catch head lice, residents can call the Nevada County Community Health Department for information.

“Just ask for a public health nurse,” Buglino said. “We can give a one-on-one phone consultation. We don’t do household calls or pick nits out of people’s hair. We defer to their physicians for diagnosis.”

Nits are eggs that are laid by adult head lice. They are ovals about one millimeter long and a yellowish-white color, according to the California Department of Health Services.

Nits take about one week to hatch and then live about three more weeks in varying stages of head lice adulthood, the department said. They stay close to the skin to get their daily doses of blood from scalp bites.

According to the pediculosis association, the signs of head lice are:

• A feeling of something moving around in the hair.

• Itching caused by the bites.

• Head sores caused by scratching the bites.

To get rid of head lice, Buglino recommends over-the-counter products in any pharmacy, which are usually shampoos or cream rinses. Those products often include a nit comb, which is a must to get all the lice out, according to the association.

Buglino and the other previously listed sources said the instructions on head lice products must be followed in order to make them effective. Buglino said household remedies are not recommended.

Natural remedies are available, but there are questions as to how effective they are, according to the association. On the other hand, many treatments from pharmacies contain chemicals that could affect those with illnesses such as cancer, brain tumors, asthma, epilepsy or AIDS.

The Centers for Disease Control and the state do not recommend using head lice sprays in the home after a member is infected. Vacuuming takes care of the head lice still living on furniture and carpets.

Afflicted home residents should wash all clothing and bed linens that may have come in contact with the infected person. Soak all combs and brushes for one hour in rubbing alcohol or soap and water that is 130 degrees.

Head lice information

– Nevada County Community Health Department, 265-1450

– The National Pediculosis Association, http://www.headlice.org

– California Department of Health Services, http://www.dhs.ca.gov

– U.S. Centers for Disease Control, http://www.cdc.gov


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