Head lice are tiny grayish brown insects which nest on the scalps of human beings, living on their blood. Lice eggs, which are called nits, are minuscule white dots about the size of a strawberry seed that stick to the base of the hairs. Pediculosis capitis is the scientific term for a head lice infestation.
Most people associate a head lice infestation with incessant itching, caused by an allergic reaction to louse bites. In fact there is an excellent chance that a child who constantly scratches his/her head is infested. However, itching is not always severe, especially in a first infestation or when someone has built up tolerance to the bites. A head check is necessary to reliably confirm the presence of infestation.
Unlike many common childhood ailments, dealing with a head lice infestation is not a simple matter of “waiting it out.” Without proper louse removal treatment, the lice will continue to multiply on an infested head, causing continuing discomfort. What’s more, the infested person is likely to spread these pests to others.
The idea that the presence of lice is an indicator of poor hygiene is a myth. In fact, head lice can and do infest anyone who comes into close contact with them, regardless of personal habits. Once on a person’s scalp, lice cannot be washed off and are best removed via a special head lice treatment performed by a professional.
The jury is still out as to whether head lice themselves are a source of illness or just an unpleasant annoyance. However, a child – or adult – who repeatedly scratches lice bites may eventually cause broken skin and open sores on the scalp. These are susceptible to infection, which can often be detected through swollen, tender lymph nodes.
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