There are three types of lice:
- Nits are eggs that lice lay on a person’s hair strand.
- Nymphs are baby lice that mature to adulthood in about nine to 12 days.
- Adult lice are reddish-brown/gray insects that live on the hair shaft.
What causes lice in children?
Lice can’t fly or jump, but they have tiny, sticky claws that allow them to crawl and cling firmly to hair. Lice are mainly spread through head-to-head contact. Children can also get lice by coming in contact with contaminated clothing, combs, beds or pillows that have recently been used by an infested person.
And although lice spread quickly from child to child, they cannot be spread to pets—nor can pets spread them to people.
What factors increase a child's risk of getting lice?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lice are seen most often in children between the ages of 3 and 11 and their families.
Children have a higher risk of getting lice because:
- They tend to come in close physical contact with one another and they are more likely to share personal belongings.
- They are also more likely to be in group settings where lice spread quickly, such as schools, day care centers and camps.
- Lice will infest any available human’s head in order to get the nourishment they need to live. This means that all children are potential targets for infestation, regardless of whether they have good or bad hygiene.
Signs and symptoms
What are the symptoms of lice in children?
The main symptom of a lice infestation is an itchy scalp. Small, red bumps may also appear on the scalp as a result of irritation from scratching.
During a head lice examination, one or more of the following will also be noticeable:
- Lice eggs (nits)—Tiny, pearl-shaped dots that cling to the hair shaft. Nits look similar to dandruff flakes, but they cannot be brushed off the scalp. After hatching (typically within eight to 10 days of being laid), they leave behind a shell that appears white or clear.
- Baby lice (nymphs)—A little smaller than adult lice (they will grow to an adult stage within nine to 12 days after they hatch)
- Adult lice—The same size as a sesame seed and tan or gray in color