Information for parents and carers
Head lice are small parasitic insects that only live on the human head. They do not live on any other part of the body or on any other animal. Head lice crawl very fast over the human head, grasping hair shafts to move quickly. Their grasp is very strong which makes them hard to dislodge from the scalp and hair.
Head lice do not burrow into the skin. They feed only on human blood and they need to feed several times a day.
Eggs (nits) are laid by adult females close to the scalp on the hair shaft, usually no more than 1.5 centimetres from the scalp. These eggs are attached to the hair with incredibly strong glue.
Do head lice cause illness or disease?
Head lice do not carry any disease. Constant scratching may lead to sores on the scalp, however this is very rare. Parents should keep cases of head lice in their children in perspective. There are far worse health issues to concern a parent than head lice.
Adults, more than children, suffer from considerable outrage at the presence of these parasites. This outrage usually outweighs any public health significance that head lice may present.
The most likely harm caused by head lice is from the inappropriate use of chemicals in an attempt to treat them. The continued application of chemicals to the scalp can cause severe reactions on some heads.
Parents, in their frustration, can resort to applying products not tested for human use and not shown to have any effect on reducing head lice.
How are head lice spread?
Head lice are spread by contact occurring between one human head and another human head. The head lice move along the hair shaft from the head of an infested person to the hair of another person. Head lice cannot fly or jump and they do not crawl along furniture or hop between car seats. Head lice cannot survive off the human head for more than a few hours.
Thorough cleaning of your home, washing bedding and toys and rigorous vacuum cleaning do not affect the head lice population on a human head.
It is thought that increased human contact, especially among young children, may have contributed to an increase in head lice because of increased opportunities for transmission.
Before you choose a chemical treatment for head lice, consider the following:
Comb and conditioner method
Head lice breathe through small openings along their abdomens. By coating the hair and therefore the louse in something thick and slimy, these openings close over, shutting down the breathing of lice for about 20 minutes. While unfortunately the lice don't die using this method, it does slow them down so that you can catch them.
Nitbusting is a method of using a comb and conditioner (or another slimy product) to manage head lice. Using this method will not kill the lice or eggs but some good quality lice combs will help remove most of them.
If Nitbusting at home with your child, do the following:
10.Once you have combed and re-combed each section of hair, either re-plait or tie it back. If it is very short, suggest to the child some interesting styling! Young boys often like their hair spiked up.
Other things you should know about the comb and conditioner method
Depending on the hair length and type, it is often easier to neatly section long and thick hair before applying conditioner to avoid getting the hair into a terrible tangle.
Head lice often congregate on the crown of the head, so that it may not be until you reach these last sections of hair that you find adult lice. However, heads that are severely infested will have adult lice everywhere.
A good head lice comb should also remove nymphs. These can be difficult to identify with the naked eye, but appear as small insects on the paper towel.