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What does head lice look like and how to behave?

What does head lice look like and how to behave?


They infest the heads of children and seem refractory to any attempt to prevent their unpleasant arrival. How do you spot the lice? And how to prevent them?  The Milan dermatologist Marcello Monti answers.


They infest the heads of children and seem refractory to any attempt to prevent their unpleasant arrival: they are head lice, now ubiquitous in schools and communities such as kindergartens and gymnasiums. They do not even observe the seasonality they once experienced most often during the winter months when the cold and the need to cover with scarves and hats made it easier to transmit.

What does head lice look like
What does head lice look like

What are the lice and how they behave?


The louse is a compulsive parasite, which means it does not survive for a long time unless it is a human being. The species infesting the hair of children (and adults) is not even able to survive on animals: it needs the man whose blood feeds on the scalp,


“The itching caused by lice is not due, as the popular belief conveys to dirt, but rather to the insect bites,” continues Monti. “Indeed, the more the hair is cleaned, the easier it is for the lice to” catch “and to lay their eggs at the root of the same.”


Life cycle of louse occurs through three stages and lasts for about a month. It begins with the egg (also called lynxes) which, when cleaved, gives rise to nymphs, unmatched forms of the adult parasite.


The nymph is very small and reddish, while the adult louse is dark and 2-4 mm long.


The adult louse lays eggs that turn them off after 8-10 days playing the cycle. Is there any health risk in lice infestation? “Not directly: head lice does not transmit infectious diseases. Certainly, if they are numerous, they can cause scratching injuries which in turn can get infected. In some cases allergic reactions may also appear, “Monti explains.


The parasite survives about one month on a person’s head but no more than 48 hours on objects and the environment. Eggs can survive for a long time away from the scalp but can not mature and break unless they are kept at a temperature similar to that of human skin. This means that the parasite will very likely come on a child’s head through the environment.



How do you locate them?


The lice lay the eggs at the root of the hair and especially on the neck, behind the ears, and sometimes at the fringe root. It is often difficult to see the adult insect unless the infestation has already been advanced. However, there are a large number of eggs that have a translucent or sometimes dark brown skin and are closely attached to the base of the hair. They can be confused with dandruff: to understand the difference just try to remove them from the hair with a small shake. Dandruff will fall while the louse egg will stick firmly to the stomach.


“An alarm signal for the parents is certainly the itch: every time the baby scratches the head you have to check if there are no lice,” says Monti. “Another symptom that requires careful control is the presence of redness and scratching at the most infested spots, that is, the back of the neck and the hanging behind the ears.”



To look at the hair and discover the intruder, a bit of systematicness is needed, as a document distributed by the ASL of Milan in the schools of the Lombardy capital, where the presence of these unwelcome guests is becoming a small health emergency.


Firstly, it is necessary to have good natural light: it is therefore best to carry out the day control in front of a window. Sometimes electric light makes transparent eggs, especially if you are in front of a blonde hair (the hardest to examine).


It’s good to have a magnifying glass, a very fine tooth comb (buyable at a pharmacy) and a sheet of white paper. You just have to pass the comb in your hair to see the adult louse on the sheet. As has been said, however, not always the adult insects are present in sufficient numbers.


It is therefore necessary to look for eggs: to do this, it is good to use the magnifying glass and to separate the hair in four areas, held with clasps or hairpins, then proceeding to a systematic check to lock.


Can they be prevented?


Numerous studies have been conducted to determine what is the best treatment for lice removal but above all to limit their spread in schools. As far as prevention is concerned, both the studies taken into account in drawing up the guidelines of the UK Health Service and those summarized in the CDC’s Atlanta Computer Documentation (the world’s largest center for surveillance of infectious diseases) show that no commercially produced product performs a real repulsive or preventative action, even if it is advertised as such.




The only effective form of prevention is the biweekly control of the hair of the children: in the event of infestation, you must immediately proceed with eradication and experience class and school management. In this way, it is possible to limit the spread of parasites in time and space.


Unfortunately, these are annoying measures that require commitment and especially good information from families. There are still too many people who associate lice with poor personal hygiene or precarious housing conditions and are therefore ashamed to state that their children have been affected.


“It is good to emphasize that there is no relationship between personal cleansing and parasitic lice of the head: there are some individual characteristics (hair type, skin smell) that cause some children to take the lice more frequently than others” Monti explains.


A problem that makes prevention difficult is also the resistance to most common pesticides. In many cases, treated children are still infested and continue to spread parasitism without the knowledge of parents and teachers. Failure to treat can also depend on incorrect use of the same or an inadequate laying time. It is important to follow the directions for use of the product chosen in the letter not only to make the surgery effective but also to preserve its effectiveness in the event of further infestations.


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