How Long Does It Take to Get Lice After Being Exposed?

Young boy scratching his head

Uh oh….Your Child was Just with a Friend who has Head Lice

Head lice is a very common problem today, particularly among families with young children. We occasionally get phone calls from parents in the area telling us that their child had been around children who were soon after diagnosed with lice, and these folks are concerned; they ask us, “How long will it take after exposure to get a case of lice and how long until the case is identifiable?”

Some Cases can be Diagnosed Immediately

LiceDoctors professional technician examining a head for lice

Your child can contract a case of lice immediately upon exposure if his or her head is close to someone with head lice. As soon as a live female bug crawls from the infested head onto your child’s head, you have the beginnings of a lice case. If you know or suspect that your child has been close to someone with an active lice infestation, and if there is a live louse (bug) in the hair, you may be able to identify the case immediately. There is a big if here and that is if there is a still a bug in the hair. A bug gets to a head by crawling and using the hair strands to climb to the scalp. Once on the scalp, it will stay there and lay eggs (nits). At some point the louse may have the opportunity to crawl onto another person’s head. That can happen any time over the lifetime of the louse which is 30 days. If the bug is still in the hair on the day that you check and if you can find it (that is another story because they move incredibly fast across the head), then you may be fortunate enough to identify a case on day 1. More often than not, because of the aforementioned factors, a case is not diagnosed until several eggs have been laid.

Most Lice Cases are not Diagnosed Until Weeks After Exposure

Even though you are on the look out for signs of lice, you may not find them until weeks into the infestation. The reason for that is that it is very difficult for a lay person to find a louse in the hair (assuming it is even still there). These bugs are hearty and cagey; that is why they have been around for millions (yes) of years. It generally takes a person experienced in lice removal to find a louse and identify a case early on. You also see that your child is not itchy and assume that means that there are no lice there. That is not true; some people have a major lice infestation and show no symptoms. When this happens, the case is usually overlooked until many nits are in the hair, which is usually weeks after exposure.

closeup image of calendar month

Nits are Not Easy to See in the Hair

Female lice lay 6-10 nits a day over a period of a month, so within a few weeks there can be over a 100 nits in the hair. The key here is that nits camouflage in the hair making them difficult to see if you do not have the appropriate tools, lighting, and experience. Because of this many people, miss cases until they are fairly advanced.

LiceDoctors Can Eradicate a Case at Any Stage of Infestation

LiceDoctors Professional technician treating client with oil

While, ideally, a case will be diagnosed right after exposure, before the louse has a chance to lay nits, the reality is that because of the reasons cited above, the vast majority of cases of head lice are not diagnosed until there is a full-blown infestation. A reputable lice service can identify a case at any stage and can eliminate it fully whenever the technician checks the hair. Our advice if your child has recently been exposed to head lice is to keep checking the head every day. You are looking for sticky oval eggs that are translucent and are glued to the hair near the scalp. If you have any doubts about whether you are looking at nits, call us and we can help you out. You can reach LiceDoctors morning, afternoon, or night at 800-224-2537. We are here for you.