Head lice are not uncommon on campus. They are not a serious health problem. They cause an itchy scalp, sometimes some swollen glands in the neck, and if you have them for a long time, you may feel very tired or run-down.
They are contagious. If you routinely share hats, brushes or combs, scarves, hair ornaments, unwashed clothes or towels with your friends, you can pick up lice. If you sleep in beds or sleeping bags of people with lice, you will most likely pick them up. Sexual intimates can readily pass the lice to each other, as can children. You can protect yourself by limiting your exposure.
People with dreadlocks are especially prone to get lice: something about the tight tangles of hair provides a warm and safe environment in which the lice prosper. Lice are more likely to be found in infrequent bathers & shampooers: it makes sense that the lice get established more easily if they aren't regularly disturbed. People who wash their clothes infrequently, or use cold water have a greater risk of lice: studies show that washing laundry in hot water and using hot driers kills lice and eggs.
Lice are treated by the use of Nix, an over the counter cream rinse which contains permethrin, an insecticide. You also must clean your clothes, hair brushes and combs, hats, towels and bedding with very hot water in order the eradicate them. The timing of this is important: all members of a household who need treatment need to do it on the same day.
Due to increasing resistance, it is often necessary to repeat the permethrin treatment in 7-10 days. Removal of nits (eggs which adhere to the hairs near the scalp) with a fine-toothed comb is also recommended. In the meantime, limit your exposure to lice by not sharing clothes, hats, hairbrushes or bedding. Wash your hair several times a week. Wash your laundry in hot water and use a hot drier. This will lower your risk.