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  Learn About Head Lice

What are head lice?
Head lice (pediculus humanus capitis) are small, grayish-brown, wingless insects that are roughly the size of a sesame seed (found on a burger bun) when fully grown. They need to live in warm (31C +) humid conditions and feed off human blood obtained by biting the scalp. Record of their existence goes as far back as ancient civilization!

What causes a head louse infection?
Contrary to popular belief, head lice do not jump, hop or fly - they are only spread by sustained, head-to-head contact with an infected person.

What's the difference between head lice and nits?
Head lice are the insects themselves, while nits are the empty egg cases of head lice that have hatched. Nits remain stuck to the hair shaft until the hair grows out or are physically removed and can be found for weeks or months even after the head lice themselves have all been cleared. Their presence does not necessarily mean you have head lice; you can only be sure you have head lice if you can find living, moving lice. You should never treat for nits unless you can find living lice.

What do head lice look like?

Can lice live outside of the hair?
Lice may be able to live for up to 2 days outside of the hair in humid conditions, but it is believed that they can no longer reproduce.

What symptoms do head lice cause?
Often there are no symptoms. Those affected only get an itchy scalp if they have developed sensitivity to the louse saliva and this can take up to three months. The vast majority of louse infections do not lead to any other health problems.

What is the best way of identifying head lice?
Detection combing is the best way to find head lice. This is an important first step before beginning treatment, which should only be started following the detection of a live louse with a special fine tooth detection comb.

How do you treat head lice?
Pharmaceutical products can work, but we believe the best, most reliable option is manual removal.

Can head lice become resistant to treatment lotions?
Yes. Recent clinical evidence suggests that head lice are developing a resistance to even the most popular brands of pharmaceutical head lice treatments

How do head lice spread?
Head louse infection is spread by sustained and direct, head to head contact with another infected person.

How can you avoid head lice?
Parents who regularly comb and check their children's hair are ideally placed to spot head lice and keep the rest of the family free from infection. If a louse is found, carefully follow the advice on checking the family and on treatment that will ensure the problem is solved.

Are insecticidal treatments safe?
Some of the more popular insecticidal treatments, such as Lindane, have come under criticism in recent years because of their harmful effects on children and the natural environment. See L.I.C.E. (Lindane Isn't Cool for the Environment) - a website maintained by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Department - for more information. A number of states, including California, have banned the use of Lindane.

Should I cut my child's hair if he/she gets head lice?
It is not necessary to cut a child's hair since lice live close to the scalp it won't help get rid of lice. However, a hair cut coupled with successfully treating head lice may be just the thing to make a child feel better emotionally after the ordeal.

Is there such a thing as a head louse epidemic?
At any one time, most schools will have children with active living head lice. This can be between 2 - 5%, but as high as 20 - 40% depending on several environmental factors.

Who gets head lice and how?
Anyone can get head lice, although it is more common in children.

Is it the School's Fault?
No. Head louse infection is no only a big problem of schools, but of the wider community. Schools, however, are on the frontline and often get the blame. Head teachers, and teachers generally, can face a real challenge in managing frustrated parents and irritated children - who may misunderstand the cause and treatment of the infection.

What do I do if my child gets head lice?
Contact everyone your child has been in close sustained, head-to-head contact with recently. This is called 'contact tracing' and should include grandparents, babysitters, friends and family. Once a list has been made, advise everyone to check for head lice and seek treatment from their pharmacist if live lice are found.

How can I work out how long the lice have been in my hair?
You can work out when the lice first moved in by judging how many centimeters from the scalp you find the nits. Hair grows at about one centimeter a month so a nit 2cm from the scalp was therefore laid about 2 months ago. If you cannot find live lice and the nearest nit to the scalp is 1 cm down the hair shaft, then the infection has been cleared for one month, but you will still find the empty egg cases.

How would you describe the louse lifecycle?
The louse life cycle is fairly simple. A louse attaches itself to the base of the hair close to the scalp. It needs a blood meal several times a day and also needs the warmth and humidity provided by the scalp. At night the female louse lays several eggs that are cemented to the base of a hair shaft. The eggs are a creamy brown color and are at this stage extremely difficult to pick out against the scalp and hair shafts. After about 7-10 days the eggs hatch, leaving behind a white eggshell known as a 'nit' and these are very easily seen. The young louse then begins to feed and after 7-10 days will reach adulthood; it is then capable of reproduction and the whole cycle begins again.

Where else can I go for help and advice other than Pediatric Scalp Care Services or Hair Fairies?
You can seek advice from the local school nurse, pharmacist, pediatrician or health professional.

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