Head Lice

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What are head lice?

Head lice are parasites that only infect human scalps. They are spread by head to head contact but do not cause disease. They do affect the health of our children through cost to families for treatment, frustration, unnecessary embarrassment and sometimes education time lost.

  • Lice love clean human hair
  • Lice do not jump or fly, and their bites make the scalp itchy
  • Nits are lice eggs, which are attached to the hair, close to the scalp. They are as tiny as dandruff or about 1/3 the size of a sesame seed
  • You can't get rid of nits by brushing, or with a hair dryer
  • After the head lice hatch, the shell of the nit stays stuck to the hair. If it is more than 12 mm (1/2 inch) away from the scalp, it is probably empty
  • Lice are spread by head-to-head contact and by sharing brushes, hats, or other items that come in contact with the head
  • Head lice are common where children play or work closely together
  • Lice do not cause disease... they just bug us!
  • Adult head lice lay about 10 eggs (called nits) every day. These nits are stuck to the hair near the scalp.
  • It takes 7-10 days for the nits to hatch. It takes 6-10 days for lice to become adult. During that time, it stays on the head, but does not lay.

How do I prevent my child from contracting head lice?

  • Teach your child to not share hats, brushes, helmets, hair barrettes and towels
  • Keep long hair tied back when lice have been identified in your school

For more information on head lice, visit HealthLink BC.

What do I need to know if my child or student has head lice?

  • Head lice are an ongoing problem but are not a major public health concern as they do not spread disease. They can be a community concern because of the nuisance and discomfort surrounding infestations and spread.
  • The primary responsibility for control of head lice rests with the family and community, though trained volunteers can help families by providing routine head lice screening and parent education. Public health nurses can also answer questions about the management of head lice.
  • Please note that public health nurses do not perform head lice checks for children and families at any public health units. Nor do public health nurses visit schools to conduct head lice checks on students when there is a concern or case.
  • If a child has head lice they can continue to have contact with others for the remainder of the day - children should not be excluded from the community or school due to head lice. If there are problems with the treatment, parents are encouraged to consult a public health nurse for information and resources. To prevent the spread of head lice and ensure that the child has received treatment, information letters should be given to parents and classroom contacts. Download a sample parent and classroom letter.

How do I check for head lice?

To check for head lice, you will need: 

  • A bright light
  • A metal lice comb (optional)
  • A regular comb
  • Hair clips for longer hair
  • Paper towels

Then follow these steps:

  1. Explain to your child/family member what you are going to do. Have them sit in a comfortable spot under bright light.
  2. Untangle long hair using a regular comb. Divide the hair into four sections and check one section at a time.
  3. You are looking for live lice and nits. Nits are the lice eggs that cement to the hair near the scalp. Nits are white, grey or yellowish and can be confused with fluff, dandruff or dirt however a nit will not move until you dislodge it.
  4. If using a lice comb, comb it through the hair close to the scalp and then wipe on a paper towel. Look at the paper towel for lice or nits.
  5. You must look through the entire head. Use hair clips to hold longer hair in place.
  6. If you find lice or nits follow the instructions in the Head Lice Treatment Options section of this resource.

Check the heads of all family members for lice and nits as they are easily spread. Treat all infested family members at the same time otherwise you may not rid your house of the lice and the infestation will continue despite the treatments given. 

What are the approved treatment options for cases of head lice?

There are only two acceptable treatment options:

  • Option A: Head lice shampoo - special head lice shampoos or rinses are used because they have been tested and determined to be a safe and effective treatment.
  • Option B: Wet-combing - a non-chemical way to find and eliminate head lice.

What treatments should I not use because they are ineffective against head lice?

The following treatments are either ineffective or unsafe (or both!):

  • Insect sprays (such as Raid)
  • Dyes
  • Oil (such as WD40)
  • Bleaches
  • Gasoline
  • Chinese chalk
  • Flea soap
  • Heat directly on scalp
  • Alcohol
  • Enzyme reactions
  • Shaving gel
  • Kerosene
  • Shaving the head
  • Garlic

Note: essential oils (such as pine, tea tree, thyme, rosemary, eucalyptus, etc.) are not recommended at this time due to limited data and possible toxicity concerns.

Resources

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