Head Lice

Head Lice  

Hearing your child has head lice can be very frustrating. Even though head lice are not linked with poor hygiene, many parents feel shy about asking for help.

Head lice are small insects that live on the scalp. They cause itching and spread from head to head through contact. They do not spread disease. Anyone can get them. They are more common in children, as their heads often touch when they play together. Head lice are also spread through objects like scarves, brushes, head phones, hats and helmets.

A full course of treatment and avoiding close head-to-head activities are recommended. There is no medical reason for excluding a child with nits or live lice from school or child care.

What do I look for?

Head lice:

  • Small, flat, hard to see insects.
  • Crawl and do not fly or jump-they spread by direct contact.
  • Size of a sesame seed, without wings.
  • Grey-brown in colour.

Nits (eggs of the louse):

  • Nits attach to the hair shaft very close to the scalp.
  • Size of a grain of sand.
  • Brown in colour when alive, white when dead or hatched.
  • Do not come off easily. Hatch in about 7 days.
  • When nits are more than 1 cm from the scalp they are dead or hatched, or may be dandruff.

 Where do I look for the Lice and Nits?

  • Close to the scalp.
  • Around the ears.
  • Back of neck and forehead.

Use a bright light and magnifying glass if you have one. Part and comb wet hair into small sections to help you see lice and nits better. If you only find nits, look closer for the live lice. If lice and nits are present act quickly and treat both.

Treatment for Head Lice
  • Do not treat children unless they have live lice.

    • Your pharmacist can help you choose a head lice product. You do not need a prescription. Read the list of ingredients and the directions very carefully. Ingredients with permethrin or pyrethrins are effective when used as directed.
  • Give 2 treatments 7 to 10 days apart.

    • The first treatment will kill head lice but not all nits. The second treatment must be used again in 7 to 10 days after the first. Between treatments, daily nit removal and hair combing are essential to get rid of head lice successfully. If you see live lice 48 hrs after the second treatment, contact your doctor.
Nit Treatment
  • Daily nit removal and hair combing are key to getting rid of head lice.

    • After head lice are treated, removing the nits can help to prevent new ones. 
  • To remove nits, use a bright light and part hair into small sections.

    • With a fine-toothed nit comb or your fingernails pull the nits from the hair strands starting at the roots down to the tips. Nit removal is easier when hair is wet. Wipe the nits onto a tissue and place in a bag to throw out. After, wash your hands with soap and water and soak the comb in hot water.
Alternative head lice treatment

Products found at home like mineral oil and vinegar, petroleum jelly, mayonnaise and hair gel have been used to treat head lice. These have not been proven to work. Putting these onto the hair is thought to plug the holes the lice breathe through. These products may be even less effective if only nits are present. If you use them, leave the product on the head overnight. After these treatments, wash and rinse hair with regular shampoo a few times.

As per the Canadian Paediatric Society, using flammable, toxic and dangerous substance like gasoline or kerosene to treat head lice or using products intended for treating lice in animals are not recommended under any circumstances.

Make sure to check all close contacts.

If one person in the family has head lice, it is possible that other family members will also have them. Tell your child's school, day-care, and children's groups (for example, sports or clubs) so other parents can check their children's hair.

It is important that anyone with head lice is treated at the same timeThis can prevent your child from getting lice again from a close contact.

Cleaning personal items

Head lice do not survive more than 3 days away from the warmth and humidity of the scalp. Nits will hatch in 7 to 10 days. Wash combs, brushes and hair accessories with hot, soapy water until all lice or nits are removed.  Then soak them in very hot water for 10 minutes.  Wash clothing, bed sheets, blankets and towels in hot soapy water then put them in a hot dryer for 15 minutes.

Items that you can't wash such as blankets, coats, and stuffed animal you can put them in a plastic bag for 14 days.

It is not a good idea to share hair brushes while getting the treatment. You don't need to clean your home more than usual. Do not use insecticide sprays.

When do I see my Doctor about treatment?
  • If there is an allergy to any of the ingredients.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Treating children less than 2 years of age.
  • Treating someone with a seizure disorder.
  • Treating lice on eyebrows, eyelashes or beard.
  • The skin of the scalp is broken or infected.
  • The head lice infestation persists.
How to prevent the spread of head lice
  • Check your child's head on a regular basis.
  • Check every day during lice outbreaks when your school or child care facility suggest to.
  • Teach your child not to share personal things that are used on their head such as brushes, combs, barrettes, headbands, elastics, towels, hats, helmets, toques, and scarves.
Head Lice and School or Child Care

Parents must check their children's hair for head lice and nits and provide proper treatment if any head lice is found. Schools and child care facilities should let parents know if their child is thought to have head lice or if someone in the class or group has head lice. If your child has head lice, anyone who may have been in contact should be notified and checked.

Head lice do not spread disease.  There is no medical reason why a child with nits or live lice should be excluded from school or day care.  However, it is the school board or facility's decision whether or not to send a child with live lice home.

More information visit Ottawa Public Health or Canadian Paediatric Society.

Do you have more questions about parenting?

  • Connect with a registered nurse from Health811 for free, secure, and confidential health advice. Service is available 24/7 in English and French, with translation support also offered in other languages. Call 8-1-1 or visit Health811.ontario.ca.
  • Connect with a Community Navigator from 2-1-1 for information about community programs and resources across Eastern Ontario. Helpline service is available 24/7 and in many different languages. Call 2-1-1 or visit 211ontario.ca.
  • Connect with a Public Health Nurse and other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.
  • There are a variety of services to make it easier for your child to grow up healthy in Ottawa.
  • You can update your child's immunization record using either the CANImmunize App or the Immunization Connect Ontario (ICON) Tool
  • If you have received a message from Ottawa Public Health such as a letter or a call regarding immunization, an infectious disease, or infection control lapse, please call 613-580-6744 and listen to the menu options carefully.

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