The louse (plural: lice) is a parasite that attaches itself to human hair. The most prevalent kind of lice is head lice. The head louse, or Pediculus humanus capitis, is a parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes of people. Head lice feed on human blood several times a day and live close to the human scalp. Head lice are irritating but are not known to spread disease.
They are found worldwide. In the United States, infestation with head lice is most common among pre-school children attending child care, elementary schoolchildren, and the household members of infested children. The CDC estimates that about 6 million to 12 million head lice infestations occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age. In the United States, infestation with head lice is much less common among African-Americans than among persons of other races, possibly because the claws of the head louse found most frequently in the United States are better adapted for grasping the shape and width of the hair shaft of other races.
How do the head lice survive?
The female adult lice can lay up to six eggs every day right onto the shaft of hair. Those that are less than six millimeters from the scalp are most likely to hatch. The eggs are essentially glued on to the hair by secretions from the female louse. These eggs take about a week to hatch, producing a nymph. The nymphs then go through growth spurts and molt until they reach adult size which is about the size of a sesame seed.
Lice typically feed on blood four to five times each day. They use their mouth parts to bite into the skin and secrete a substance that acts to block clotting so they can freely suck the blood.
How do the head lice spread?
Head lice are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person. For a person to contact hair lice, their head has to come in contact with someone who already has head lice. This is because head lice do not have wings and cannot hop or fly, they move by crawling and so cannot hop or fly unto another person’s hair even if they are close together without the hair touching each other. This can happen during play at school, at home, and elsewhere like sports activities, playground, and slumber parties.
Spread by contact with clothing (such as hats, scarves, coats) or other personal items (such as combs, brushes, or towels) used by an infested person is uncommon. This is because the head lice can only survive by sucking human blood from the scalp. They cannot even survive in other animals, because the specie of lice that lives in the human hair can cannot survive in other animals so they cannot be gotten from pets or other animals. So even if they fall on clothing, or the hair/fur of other animals, they will most likely die off after about 24 to 48 hours.
However, head lice can be spread through shared clothing or belongings when lice crawl, or nits attached to shed hair hatch, and get on the shared clothing or belongings, and comes in contact with another human host soon after. Examples include:
- sharing clothing (hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms) or articles (hair ribbons, barrettes, combs, brushes, towels, stuffed animals) recently worn or used by an infested person;
- or lying on a bed, couch, pillow, or carpet that has recently been in contact with an infested person.
What are wigs?
A wig is a head covering that’s typically made from either human hair or animal hair, although some wigs are made with synthetic fibers. The earliest wigs date back thousands of years. Some experts say evidence may suggest the earliest wigs were made up to 100,000 years ago. It’s certain, though, that they were worn by the ancient Egyptians who often shaved off their natural hair to stay cool in the hot climate and wore wigs to protect their heads from the Sun. Monarchs and government officials often wore them to cover baldness.
Today, people use wigs for many purposes. These reasons can range from baldness due to natural causes, sickness, or medications like chemotherapy. It is also worn mostly by women to change appearance or as a fashion statement. Children also often wear wigs to play dress up. A wig can either be a full wig or a hair topper where it does not cover the whole hair.
Can wigs spread lice?
Though uncommon, wigs and hair toppers can get lice. Newly purchased wigs do not have lice because they are usually disinfected during production.
For the same reasons given above, it is very uncommon for a person to get lice from wigs. It can however happen in some special scenarios like:
- brushing a wig with a comb or hairbrush of another person with lice within 24 hours of the infested person using it. This is one of the reasons that sharing a hairbrush is discouraged. Lice can also be spread to the wig by sharing a bed or pillow with someone that has lice.
The lice on the wig has to get access to the scalp of the uninfected person who is wearing it. This is difficult but may be possible in situations where the wig is porous and has holes where the lice can pass through to the scalp or in cases of a half wig or hair topper where the lice will simply crawl around the wig to the person’s scalp.
- Lice that crawl to the wig can also lay eggs since the wig still gives a scalp-like surface available for the lice to lay eggs. Lice eggs are very tiny and hard to spot, as they resemble dandruff. The eggs stick to the hair roots and are hard to remove. The hatched louse still has to get access to the scalp within 24 hours of life or it dies off.
- It is also possible to get lice by sharing a wig with a person with lice infested hair who has worn it within 24 hours. The lice in a detached hair shaft can fall unto the hair of the individual. This is more likely in children who play dress up during playdates and share wigs.
How to remove lice from wigs?
If in the rare case lice is noticed on the wigs, the first thing to do is to remove it and wash the hair thoroughly with anti-lice shampoo, just in case a lucky louse was able to get to the scalp. Anti-lice hair products and nit removal comb can also be used for the hair. This can be repeated after a week to make sure all lice eggs are killed, especially if the individual suspects the hair of lice. The combing can be done every day for a week to increase the chances of removing all the eggs of the lice.
- The wig should be placed on a hair stand or put in a plastic bag immediately. It should be washed properly with lukewarm water and anti-lice treatment usually available in stores can also be used for it provided it is non-toxic for the wigs. Let the wig dry naturally then place it back to the stand.
- Use a fine-toothed nit comb to comb out all eggs/ nits. This comb may be included in the treatment package. Place back in a stand, and wait for about a week before wearing it again. It is better to combine this with anti-lice treatment.
- Another method to is to put the wig with lice in a bag and seal it carefully, and leave it in for a month or more. While the adult lice will die off after about a day, the month will give the eggs enough time to hatch and for the lice to die.
- Avoid ever sharing the wig again or sharing hair brushes and combs used for the wig.
So if you have hair lice in your wig, try the above methods to reclaim your wig from these parasites.