Yes, it makes us itchy just thinking about it, too. Here’s what you need to know.
What are head lice?
Head lice, which we tend to call “nits”, are small, flat insects about two to three millimetres long. They live on the scalp and lay their eggs on strands of hair. Anyone can get nits, and it doesn’t matter whether their hair is clean or dirty. Nits spread by crawling from one person’s hair to another’s, usually between people who are in close proximity, like family members or classmates. Nits can be white, brown, or dark grey, and are often found in the hair at the back of the neck or behind the ears. They can’t fly, jump, or swim, but they do stay on the scalp after swimming or bathing.
Female head lice lay about 10 eggs each night. The eggs are small and hard (like a grain of salt), laid close to the scalp, and seem to be firmly “glued” to strands of hair, and are pale grey in colour. After hatching, the empty egg cases are white. Eggs hatch in nine days, and nits live for 40 days.
Checking for nits
Check your children for head lice often, at least once a week. Scratching, scratch marks, or a rash can be a sign that your child has head lice, but not all children complain of itching. Nits need to be treated straightaway, as ordinary shampoo or soap will not kill them. Chemical treatments or wet combing are the usual ways to treat head lice. Talk to your chemist or GP for advice. NEVER use kerosene, fly spray, or animal treatments, as these are dangerous if used on people.
Chemical treatments use a special shampoo or lotion to kill head lice and eggs. Follow the instructions that are supplied with the chemical treatments. Always do a second treatment a week to 10 days after the first. This is to kill any nits that may have hatched after the first treatment.
Wet the hair and scalp with conditioner. Use a fine-toothed metal comb or nit comb (ask your chemist) to check for nits and to comb them out. Comb the full length of the hair, from the scalp to the ends, and work your way around the head. If you see any nits, clean the comb by wiping it on a tissue or a paper towel, or rinse the comb before you use it again. After you have combed all of the hair, rinse out the conditioner. Repeat each week until you don’t find any more nits.
Stop the spread
It’s not possible to completely prevent nits, but there are things you can do to stop them from spreading:
• Brush hair every day. This may help kill or injure head lice and stop them from laying eggs.
• Don’t share brushes, combs, headbands, ribbons, hairclips, helmets, or hats – anything that touches someone’s head.
• Having short hair – or wearing hair in a ponytail if it’s long – makes it less likely you or your child will catch head lice.
• Children should hang their clothes on their own hook at school, and keep their clothes apart from other children’s in swimming or sport changing rooms.