Head lice also known as Pediculosis, are a common problem for children. Lice do not carry diseases and are not considered a health risk, but can be a major nuisance for children and their families.Head lice are tiny brown insects about the size of a sesame seed. They cannot jump or fly. Head lice are spread by head-to-head contact with someone who has lice. They can also be spread through sharing personal items, such as hair brushes or hats.

The Perth District Health Unit recommends that parents check your children’s hair weekly for head lice.

Facts about head lice

  • Head lice pose no health risk; they are only a common nuisance.
  • Head lice are spread by head-to-head contact with someone who has lice.
  • Lice can also be spread by sharing personal items that are likely to come in contact with the scalp, such as headwear, scarves, towels, bedding, helmets and hair brushes.
  • Getting head lice has nothing to do with cleanliness. Anyone can get head lice.
  • Head lice spread quickly among children in child care programs, schools and recreational groups because of the close contact between children.
  • Head lice cannot live on pets or animals, only on humans.
  • Keeping hair short will not prevent head lice.
  • It’s possible to get head lice more than once.

What are head lice?

  • Head lice are tiny, brown insects about the size of a sesame seed (2 millimetres to 4 millimetires long) that live on the scalp. They cannot jump or fly, but can crawl quickly from one person’s head to another.
  • Adult lice live for ten to 20 days on the head.
  • The eggs (nits) are tiny, oval-shaped, yellowish-white specks that are firmly attached to the hair close to the scalp. The nits may also appear dark in colour.
  • Nits hatch after seven to ten days. Baby lice are called nymphs.

Checking for lice

  • Check hair for nits and lice regularly and under good light in front of a window or under a lamp. Part and lift strands of hair when checking, going from one side of the head to the other.
  • Nits are usually found close to the scalp attached to the fine hair behind the ears, at the back of the neck and above the forehead. They may look like dandruff but will not flick off the hair. Live lice are usually found on the scalp or in the hair, but crawl very quickly and are hard to see.
  • Head lice products do not prevent you from getting head lice. Use them only when you see lice or nits. Do not use these products on a routine basis!
  • Check young school-aged children weekly for head lice; more often if there is an outbreak.

What do I do if someone in my family has head lice?

If your child has head lice, tell the school or child care centre right away. They can tell other families to watch for and treat any lice that may appear. Everyone in the house with lice will need to be treated at the same time.

How do I treat head lice?

Consult your healthcare provider or pharmacist regarding treatment of:

  • children under the age of two
  • pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • anyone with a skin irritation on the scalp
  • anyone with a seizure disorder
  • anyone with allergies
  • lice or nits on the eyebrows, eyelashes or facial hair.

Do not use flea control products, turpentine, paint thinner, kerosene and other chemicals.

Treatment

  • Treat head lice right away.
  • Ask your pharmacist to suggest an effective treatment product. Check for ingredients that may trigger allergies.
  • Follow the product instructions very carefully.
  • Since no treatment product kills all the nits, we recommend that you remove all nits after each treatment.
  • If you see live, active lice eight to 12 hours after treatment, contact your healthcare provider or pharmacist. A different treatment product may be needed.
  • Treat again with the head lice product in seven to ten days to prevent the lice from returning.
  • Some treatment products are covered under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
  • There is no evidence that home remedies or alternative products are effective in preventing or treating head lice.
  • Continue to check for two to three weeks to be sure all lice and nits are gone.

How do I remove all the nits?

  • Sit under a bright light or by a window.
  • Let your child watch television or a video or Digital Versatile Disc (DVD), or read a book to keep busy.
  • Nits are usually attached to the hair shaft, close to the scalp.
  • Look for nits by parting the hair in small sections, going from one side of the head to the other.
  • Remove nits by using your thumbnail against your first finger to grab the nit and slide it along the entire length of the hair shaft. A fine tooth comb may also be useful in removing nits.
  • Place nits in a plastic bag. When you are done, seal or tie up the bag and throw away.
  • Removing nits can be frustrating work, so be patient. Take breaks often, especially with young children.

Cleaning personal items

  • Washing combs, brushes, headwear, pillow cases and towels in hot water will help remove lice. The heat of the water or the hot cycle of your clothes dryer will kill any live lice and nits.
  • Excessive house cleaning is not needed. Do not use insecticide sprays.

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