There is no stigma attached to getting head lice. Anyone can get them, whether you’re dark haired or fair, and wash your hair twice a day or once a week! The best way of controlling the spread of head lice is to watch regularly for signs and to treat those who are infected. We would recommend checking your child’s hair at least once a week.
What are head lice?
Head lice are tiny wingless insects that are grey-brown in colour. They are the size of a pinhead when they hatch and 3mm long (the size of a sesame seed) when fully grown.
Head lice cannot fly, jump or swim. They are spread by head-to-head contact and climb from the hair of an infected person to the hair of someone else.
Life cycle of head lice
A female head louse lays eggs by cementing them to hairs (often close to the root) where they will be kept warm by the scalp. The eggs are pinhead size and difficult to see.
When the baby lice hatch 7 to 10 days later, the empty eggshells (nits) remain glued in place. Nits glisten white and become more noticeable as the growth of the hair carries them away from the scalp.
Head lice feed by biting the scalp and sucking blood through it. They take 6 to 10 days to become fully grown. Once mature, a head louse can transfer from head to head.
After mating, a female may start to lay eggs as early as the seventh day after she has hatched. So to break the life cycle and stop head lice spreading, they need to be removed from the head before the sixth day after hatching.
How common are head lice?
Children are most commonly affected by head lice, although anyone with hair can catch them.
Children are often affected by head lice because they tend to have more head-to-head contact while at school or during play. Head lice are most common in children between 4 to 11 years old.
Controlling Head Lice in School
Because they can spread very quickly, we will notify parents if we find that their child has head lice. This may be simply a discreet word as you pick up your child, or a brief letter. We also remind all parents to check their children’s hair on a regular basis. We also ask that if your child’s hair reaches shoulder length that it is tied back neatly for school. Plaits are particularly effective in helping to prevent head lice.
Getting rid of head lice
Head lice can be effectively treated using medicated lotions or by wet combing, using a specially designed head lice comb.
You can also ask your school nurse, health visitor or pharmacist if you are worried about head lice or you want more advice about how to treat them.
Wet combing or 'bug busting'
This is a method of removing lice with the regular use of a fine-toothed comb (teeth must be 0.2 to 0.3mm apart). You need to spend approximately 20 to 30 minutes combing through the entire head of hair every three days for at least two weeks. It is important that you keep doing this until there have been three consecutive sessions without seeing any lice.
You can get a 'bug-busting' kit on prescription, from a pharmacy or from the charity Community Hygiene Concern. The kit contains four specially designed combs and detailed advice.
Wet combing doesn't involve strong chemicals, and lice can't become resistant to it. It can also be used for routinely checking the hair for infection. Research shows that in general it's probably less effective than insecticides, but you may prefer wet combing if you want to avoid chemical products.
Always seek advice from a healthcare professional before using medicated head lice lotions on the following groups:
• young babies (under six months old)
• pregnant women
• people with asthma or allergies
Pregnant women are advised to use either wet combing or 4% dimeticone lotion, which is licensed for use in pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Always read the instructions carefully before using medicated head lice lotions.
For more information visit the NHS website.