Head lice (pediculosis) live on the scalp and cannot jump or fly. People get head lice from others by head-to-head contact.
A louse can crawl from one head to another head anytime people are close together, e.g., during children‘s play and sleepovers. Sharing of combs, brushes, headbands, hats, etc. can also spread lice.
Anyone can get head lice. It doesn’t mean that the person is unclean or poor, or that a child has bad parents. Lice do not discriminate.
Itching and scratching do not mean that a person has head lice. A person could have head lice and not have any itching. Checking the head weekly is the only way to find head lice.
Head lice do not carry disease, but dealing with head lice can be frustrating. Some parents/caregivers are embarrassed, so it helps to talk with the local public health nurse for information.
Preventing the Spread of Head Lice
- Check your child’s head weekly, after every sleepover, and every day during lice outbreaks at school or in the community.
- Treat immediately and properly if head lice are found.
- Notify the school or community group that you have found head lice and that your child has been treated.
- Keep long hair tied back or braided.
- Teach the whole family not to share personal items that are used on the head, e.g., hats, helmets, hair accessories, headphones, etc.
- Encourage family members to put their hats and scarves in their coat sleeves or backpacks.
If you find a live louse, nymph or a live nit, treatment is necessary. Live nits are usually located within six mm of the scalp. Therefore, nits found more than six mm away from the scalp are not live and unlikely to hatch.
Focus on those nits close to the scalp for removal. Check everyone else in the household for lice, and treat everyone who has lice on the same day by following these steps:
- Use a two-step application of a product on Day 1 and Day 7. The first application kills the live lice, and the second application kills any lice that have hatched since the first treatment was done. No product currently available will kill all of the nits.
- Use only products designed to treat head lice.
- Follow product directions carefully.
- Do daily head checks.
- Manually remove nits or eggs.
Sometimes treatment seems to not be working for the following reasons:
- Poor application of the product
- Doing only one application
- Resistance to products
Check with your public health nurse for more information, or refer to the booklet: Managing head lice at home (PDF).
House and Personal Belongings
Even though cleaning the house is important, excessive cleaning, such as scrubbing the walls, is not necessary. Concentrate on heads, where the lice live and feed. Daily head checks and nit removal is more effective for the management of head lice.
Toys and other items that can’t be washed may be placed in a tightly sealed plastic bag for two weeks or in the freezer for at least 24 hours.
Hats, pillow cases and pyjamas may be washed in hot, soapy water (66º C) and dried in a hot dryer each day. Dry clean anything that is not washable, and iron items that are safe to iron.
Combs and brushes and hair accessories can be soaked in very hot, just boiled water for at least 30 seconds each day.
Pets neither carry nor spread head lice. No treatment is needed.
Regular household cleaning is appropriate. Vacuum mattresses, furniture and car seats. Household sprays are not recommended and can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.