Back to Top Skip to main content
Alert Arrow ALERT!!

There are emergency procedures in place for parts of world due to weather.

Get the latest information on emergency prescription refills and PCM referral waivers. 

The things head lice carry: Stigma and hassle, but no harm

Lice are parasitic insects that can be found on people’s heads, and bodies. Human lice survive by feeding on human blood. (EPA photo) Lice are parasitic insects that can be found on people’s heads, and bodies. Human lice survive by feeding on human blood. (EPA photo)

Recommended Content:

Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About? | Public Health | Summer Safety

Add lice to the list of four-letter words that make people cringe. The wingless parasites are itchy and bothersome, and an infestation is often embarrassing to admit and challenging to conquer. But at least head lice have something going for them that a lot of other bugs don’t: They’re harmless.

“Ticks can transmit Lyme disease; mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus and malaria, among other things,” said Navy Capt. Kevin O’Meara, a physician and chief of pediatrics at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia.

“But head lice – those guys are pretty benign,” O’Meara said. “They’re not dangerous. They’re just annoying.”

Three types of lice afflict humans. Pediculus humanus capitis, or the head louse, is common in childhood. Up to 25 percent of all school-age children will have head lice at some point, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with anywhere from 6 million to 12 million cases reported each year in the United States in children ages 3 to 11.

As O’Meara explains, head lice don’t jump or fly. Instead, they crawl from one person’s head to another person’s. Less commonly, lice also can be transmitted through sharing personal items, such as towels at swim meets and pool parties, and pillows and other bedding at sleepaway camps.

Head lice live on the human scalp, where they eat meals of human blood and attach their eggs, or nits, tightly to the hair shaft. It takes seven to 10 days for the nits to hatch into baby lice, scientifically known as nymphs. The nymphs mature into adult lice anywhere from nine to 12 days after hatching, the CDC says. The sesame-seed-sized critters can live up to about a month on a person’s head.

“It may not be readily apparent that you have head lice,” O’Meara said. “Once you become sensitized to their saliva, you’ll start feeling very itchy. But that may be weeks after that first louse has crawled onto your scalp.”

O’Meara said it’s fine to see a health care provider for help getting rid of lice, but effective over-the-counter medications are also available.

“Basically, you massage the medication into your hair, let it sit for at least 10 minutes, and then wash it out,” O’Meara said. “Generally, you don’t need to be treated again, but a lot of people do so after seven days because of fear of reinfestation.”

For those who want to avoid medication, combing out lice is another way to get rid of them. The combing method is effective, O’Meara said, but it’s time-consuming.

“You usually have to do it several times for 15 to 20 minutes each time, to make sure you get everything out,” he said.

The CDC offers more information for preventing and treating head lice.

You also may be interested in...

Norovirus

Infographic
8/27/2018
Norovirus

Beginning in 2011, the Operational Infectious Diseases (OID) laboratory at the Naval Health Research Center has undertaken routine surveillance of four U.S. military training facilities to systematically track the prevalence of acute gastroenteritis and to establish its etiologies among U.S. military recruits.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Staphylococcus

Infographic
8/27/2018
Staphylococcus

Staphylococcus: Staphylococcus aureus is a major cause of skin and soft tissue infection (SSTI). Military personnel in congregate settings (e.g., training, deployment) are at increased risk for S. aureus colonization and SSTI. For a 7-month period in 2016, an observational cohort study of S. aureus colonization and SSTI among U.S. Navy submariners was ...

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Heat rash is common when the mercury climbs

Article
8/14/2018
Heat rash is common in the warm summer months, but military personnel and amputees may be especially at risk. (Courtesy photo)

Anyone can be affected, including children and adults

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Public Health

Protect your family from Lyme disease this summer

Article
8/3/2018
Every year, roughly 30,000 Americans contract Lyme disease from a blacklegged tick. (CDC photo)

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is by avoiding ticks.

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Health Program | Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About?

Don't let the bugs bite

Article
8/2/2018
Using an insect repellent spray can be an important measure in guarding against bites from fleas, ticks and mosquitoes this summer.

Most parents do a good job of protecting their kids from the sun, but they also need to consider why it's important to guard against potentially harmful insect bites and stings

Recommended Content:

Children's Health | Summer Safety | Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About?

Travel checklist: Prepare for bugs and more

Article
8/1/2018
Take Command of your health

Whether you're traveling across the world or across the state, get familiar with common symptoms and learn how TRICARE covers you should you run into creepy-crawlers this summer

Recommended Content:

Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About? | TRICARE Health Program

Army invention traps things that go buzz in the day

Article
7/30/2018
Aedes albopictus, is one type of mosquito responsible for spreading dengue and yellow fevers as well as the Zika and chikungunya viruses, are common throughout eastern and southern portions of the United States, South America, and other parts of the world. (Courtesy photo)

Device targets mosquitoes that transmit diseases

Recommended Content:

Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About? | Mosquito-Borne Illnesses | Preventing Mosquito-Borne Illnesses

Fleas 2018

Video
7/30/2018
Fleas 2018

MHS observes Bug Week! Learn more about how to protect yourself--and your pets--from fleas by watching this video.

Recommended Content:

Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About?

Mosquitoes 2018

Video
7/30/2018
Mosquitoes 2018

MHS observes Bug Week! Learn more about how to stay safe from mosquitoes and the diseases they carry by watching this video.

Recommended Content:

Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About? | Mosquito-Borne Illnesses | Preventing Mosquito-Borne Illnesses

Ticks 2018

Video
7/30/2018
Ticks 2018

MHS observes Bug Week! Learn more about how to keep safe from ticks, and the diseases they carry, by watching this video.

Recommended Content:

Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About?

Anaphylactic Shock 2018

Infographic
7/27/2018
How to prevent allergic reactions from bug bites and stings

How to prevent allergic reactions from bug bites and stings

Recommended Content:

Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About?

Mosquito Bite Prevention 2018

Infographic
7/27/2018
Steps to take to keep from getting bitten by mosquitoes

Steps to take to keep from getting bitten by mosquitoes

Recommended Content:

Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About?

Travel Health Mosquitoes 2018

Infographic
7/27/2018
Tips to help your trip to be bug bite free

Tips to help your trip to be bug bite free

Recommended Content:

Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About?

Help Control Mosquitoes 2018

Infographic
7/27/2018
Tips to keep your community safe from bugs

Tips to keep your community safe from bugs

Recommended Content:

Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About?

Prevent Bug Borne Illnesses 2018

Infographic
7/27/2018
Tips to keep you bug-borne illness free

Tips to keep you bug-borne illness free

Recommended Content:

Bug Week 2018: What's the Buzz All About?
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 22

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.