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Headlice

Headlice are social pests but rarely pose a threat to health. Outbreaks can be controlled if regular checks of children's hair for headlice are conducted and recommended treatments followed if lice are present.

Headlice Facts
  • only live on human heads in clean or dirty hair
  • are transferred mainly by direct head-to-head contact. Rarely by brushes, combs etc
  • do not carry disease
  • successful treatment does not protect reinfestation
  • are small insects (2-4 mm long and 1 mm wide) with a flat body and six clawed legs, and are pale to dark brown
  • feed on blood, piercing the scalp several times a day. They crawl, do not fly, jump or hop
  • nymphs (young headlice) take about a week to reach maturity and live for 2-3 weeks - each mature female can lay up to eight eggs a day (that's over 150 eggs each!)
  • nits (eggs) are tiny, hard, yellow to white and are attached firmly the hair close to the scalp
  • the feel of nits is sandy or gritty when you run your fingers through the hair.
Responsibility

It is the responsibility of the parent/ guardian to check their child's hair for headlice and to treat for headlice if they are present. It is not the responsibility of school or child care centre.

Parents/ guardians may be notified if a staff member believes a child has headlice. The child and other household members should be checked and treatment if required should begin before the child returns to school.

A school may request a note from the doctor stating that the child has been effectively treated before the child returns to school.

Checking for Headlice and Nits

The wet combing technique (see below) is more reliable than checking dry hair.

Symptoms may include excessive itching of the scalp especially at the front, nape of the neck, behind the ears, under the fringe and at the base of plaits and ponytails but not all people will itch.

Treatment Methods

The two most common headlice treatment methods are 'wet combing' and 'chemical' treatment:

  • 'wet combing' involves wetting hair and scalp liberally with hair conditioner to stun the headlice, then combing the headlice and nits out with a nit comb
  • 'chemical' treatment uses 'pediculicides' which kill the headlice.

Other treatments such as electric combs, herbal/ essential oils and enzyme treatments are available.

If there is any adverse reaction to a treatment, seek medical advice.

Preventing the Spread

  • avoid direct head-to-head contact
  • avoid sharing brushes, combs, ribbons, hats, helmets
  • consider cleaning brushes, combs, towels, pillow cases with hot water and detergent (60°C for 30 seconds)
  • discourage children from playing with each others' hair
  • keep long hair firmly plaited, or at least tied back
  • brush hair and check for headlice regularly
  • shaving the head is not necessary.
More Information

Department of Health Headlice Advice