Have you ever wondered what head lice look like under the microscope would look like? After discussing dandruff, we proceed to a more perplexing organism that preys on a child’s hair – the head lice.
Observing head louse, louse eggs, and even adult lice under the microscope requires caution and knowledge on properly observing them. It also takes a solid gut to avoid feeling disgusted and practice professionalism while recording the results of your observation.
If you take on this project of observing head lice, you must prepare yourself and the tools you will need to do this task.
What do Lice look like?
Head lice are tiny, wingless insects that live among human hair and feed on blood taken from the scalp of humans by biting through the skin. Head lice have 6 legs with claws at the end to grip the human hair shaft. Head lice are parasites that cause itching and scalp inflammation when they feed on humans. These tiny insects lay their eggs, called nits, on the base of the hairs close to where it attaches to the scalp.
Lice are most common among children because they have close contact with each other during playtime, which is why head lice are also known as “school lice.” Lice can be spread among family members.
How Did Lice Start?
The life cycle of an adult louse is spent entirely on the human head. They feed on human blood and can lead to infectious diseases.
After the fully grown female head louse has conceived, she lays anywhere between 30 and 50 eggs within a period of 2 to 3 weeks. These eggs are called nits, and they resemble dandruff in the hair follicle when seen under the microscope. Louse eggs look like tiny oval casings that range from white to dark gray. Nits are stuck firmly on hair shafts and hatch after 8 to 12 days.
After the lice eggs hatch, the young louse or nymph begins to feed on blood immediately if given an opportunity by squeezing through the skin of its host. Lice prefer temperatures ranging from 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit (21-27 degrees Celsius) and will die when exposed to temperatures below freezing. Head lice can live for about a month, but their average lifespan is only about a week since they need to feed on blood three times a day.
What are the causes and symptoms of head louse?
The main symptom of head lice infestation would be itchiness on the scalp, neck, and other parts where hair touches the skin. These areas may also show red swelling, irritation, and tenderness.
The cause of head louse infestation is due to close contact with other infected individuals or through using the same hair products without proper disinfection. Head lice are usually found in children aged 3 to 11 years old but can infect anyone regardless of age.
Though having head lice is quite common among kids, it can lead to lice infestation if left untreated. Prolonged scratching can cause infection and inflammation of the scalp.
Are lice visible to the eye?
Lice on the head can be seen by searching the hair and scalp for nits, nymphs, or adults. Finding a nymph or an adult may be difficult; they’re usually only a few, and they can swiftly hop away.
However, if nits are found near the scalp, this indicates head lice infestation. The presence of nits less than a quarter of an inch from the scalp suggests that the infestation is old. If you’re not sure whether or not someone has lice in their head, consult a medical professional and inform them about your observations and findings.
A magnifying glass, a microscope, and tweezers may be used to find nits or lice on the scalp of children or adults that don’t want to miss any evidence of having head lice.
How to Treat Head Lice to Kill Adult Lice
There are over-the-counter medications that can be used to treat lice infestation and rid patients of head lice per professional medical advice.
However, these remedies are only effective in killing adult lice and not nymphs or eggs. These products usually come with a metal nit comb to help remove the nits thoroughly after treatment is applied. It’s important that all tools used during treatment be washed and disinfected before they’re used on other individuals.
Properly treat a child’s hair with one of the many shampoos available for head lice. Make sure to follow the directions on the product’s package when using these over-the-counter treatments. Once you’ve applied medication to your child or yourself, wait for 10 minutes before rinsing it away completely.
This is followed by nit removal using a metal nit comb-over wet hair. The use of lice shampoo is aimed to rid patients of adult lice while the nit comb will kill any nymphs or eggs that are left behind after treatment. This process should be repeated about 7 days later, if necessary.
Head Louse Removal and Prevention Tips
After rinsing out the shampoo, it’s important to dry the hair thoroughly. Using a blow dryer on a cool setting will help remove any hidden lice and nits.
Properly clean sheets and clothing by washing them with hot water and drying them at high heat or placing items in a dryer for 10 minutes.
After the head has been thoroughly cleaned, pay close attention to the hair. Check the head for any dead lice or nits that may have been missed. Lice cluster their eggs near the scalp and can be hard to spot with the naked eye.
Observing head lice under the microscope
It would be best to prepare several things to start observing lice under the microscope.
The tools you will need are:
- An electron microscope
- A Stereo microscope
- Slides and coverslips
- Samples of lice such as adult lice and lice eggs
How to observe head lice under a microscope
Head louse is an organism, so their observation must be done safely, not with bare hands but under gloves, which you should have ready beforehand – rubber or latex gloves work best. You will also want to have hairspray available to keep the hair in place. You may need a magnifying glass to pick out samples such as adult lice, baby lice, and lice eggs for your observation.
These samples must be prepared with ethanol, covered with the coverslips, and dried using a hairdryer before placing them under the microscope for observation.
Stereo microscopes can be used to magnify objects between 10 and 100 times. Because the object is magnified, it should be placed on a glass slide so that light can pass through both sides of the microscope. The microscope shown here has two eyepieces and three lens systems.
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An electron microscope is a more advanced microscope that uses electrons to illuminate the specimen instead of light like a regular microscope. It allows smaller objects (such as lice) and specimens to be observed clearly and in greater detail. The magnification on an electron microscope can be up to 1,000,000 times.
Before placing the samples under the microscope, make sure your working area is free of any dust or debris that can hinder your observations. Clean your workspace with an organic solvent like ethanol or acetone before beginning the observation process.
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Observing lice under a stereo microscope
Start by placing the samples of lice on a glass slide. Place adhesive around the samples to hold them down and spray with hair spray to keep them in place.
Place your first slide under the microscope using both eyepieces so that you can see what is on each side at once. Gently turn the magnification disc until you reach 20x magnification.
Lice look translucent under the microscope with their body segments visible. Some would look like a sesame seed to the naked eye. They have six legs, but because they are so small, you can only make outlines of them. You will be able to distinguish eggs and adults apart easily, with eggs being smaller than adults at 1/50th of an inch in length.
Observing lice under an electron microscope
If you use an electron microscope, the samples must first be prepared. It involves coating, drying, and staining your samples with iodine or other chemicals. This process will dissolve the adult louse exoskeleton to better visualize its structure under a 1000x magnification.
To prepare the sample for observation under an electron microscope, follow these steps:
- Place your lice specimen on a glass slide. If it is not entirely flat, use adhesive to flatten it out.
- Coat the sample with gold or carbon using a metal section attached to the end of the microscope column.
- Use a hairdryer to dry the samples for at least 30 minutes.
- Stain the sample with iodine for 1-5 minutes and rinse with water afterward to remove excess iodine from the surface of the slide.
Once your sample is ready, you can begin observing it under an electron microscope by following these steps:
- Place your slide under the microscope and turn on the electron beam (if it is not already turned on).
- Adjust the controls to focus your view of the sample. You may need to adjust magnification, voltage, or both.
- Focus around different regions of the specimen to observe its structure in detail with higher magnification settings.
- Record the images you observe in your lab notebook for future reference.
Observing lice under an electron microscope can provide more detail on their anatomy and internal structure but requires a lot of preparation before observations can be made.
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