Head Lice Frequently Asked Questions

 

Here are some common questions we get about head lice.

Click on a question below to reveal the answer.

What are head lice?

Head lice are tiny insect parasites that live on the human head, feeding on blood from the scalp several times a day. Head lice reproduce by laying their eggs (nits) on the hair shaft close to the scalp. In Australia they are not dangerous, don't carry diseases and are not a sign of poor hygiene.

Where do head lice come from?

Head lice have been around for thousands of years. They have even been found on Egyptian Mummies! As with any organisms, they learn to adapt to their environment in order to survive. Over time head lice may develop resistance to some chemicals and herbal active ingredients. Thus it is important to check if a treatment you have used has actually worked, and if not, treat again with another product that contains a different active ingredient.

How are head lice spread?

Head lice are spread by head-to-head contact with another person who has head lice, e.g. when doing group work at school, playing, or hugging. Head lice "trapeze" from one hair to another in seconds. Heads must be touching or be very close for transfer. Head lice do not have wings so they cannot fly. They can't jump or swim because they do not have 'knees'. Head lice are not spread through bed linen, clothing or head gear, as they do not leave the scalp unless they are dead or dying and they need a fresh supply of blood to survive.

What are the signs of head lice?

Many people mistakenly think they will have an itchy head if they have head lice. Whilst this can be the case, as the skin reacts to the saliva of the head lice and creates itching, many people can be infested and have no itchiness. This is particularly so in people who have had head lice more than once, in which case they may become desensitised. Head lice can be seen in the hair, however they can move at 30 cm per minute and are therefore difficult to spot unless they a slowed down by a thick lotion such as conditioner. Adult lice are usually dark brown and about 2-3 mm long. Hatchlings (young lice) are often a lighter brown colour and about 1-2 mm long. Eggs (nits) may be seen attached to the hair shaft but they can be thin and hard to see, especially newly laid eggs close to the scalp. The colour ranges from a dark brown-grey for live eggs (which are usually close to the scalp) and light brown to white for eggs that are dying or dead. You will find that the dead or dying eggs are further down the hair shaft.

How do I look for head lice?

Due to the speed at which head lice move checking "dry" hair is unreliable. The only way to be sure that a person has head lice is to carefully comb plenty of hair conditioner through the dry hair. This slows the head lice down so they can be trapped in the comb easily. Take a good look around the ears and the nape of the neck - these are head lice's favourite areas.

Do head lice live in carpets, clothes, hats or sheets?

No. Head lice very rarely leave the head. They require blood to survive. Head lice feed 3-4 times a day and without blood, will dehydrate in 6 hours in a dry climate and 24 hours in a humid climate). Just like a chicken's egg, nits (head lice eggs) require warmth to hatch and this is the reason why they are laid close to the scalp. The further away from the scalp, the less likely they are to survive.

Household cleaning

As previously discussed, head lice and eggs don't survive for very long away from the human scalp, as they are human parasites. It isn't necessary to wash all the household linen or clothing, to vacuum, scrub or spray the house with insecticide, or to treat the cat or dog.

Is it true that head lice only like clean hair?

No. Head lice are not selective. They don't care if hair is long, short, blonde, brown, washed this morning or last week. As long as they are warm, and have blood to drink, then they are content.

Should I treat everyone in the family?

If one member of the family has head lice chances are other members of the family will have head lice too. Therefore we advise that all family members be checked for head lice and treated where infestation is detected.

Does my child have to miss school?

Different states of Australia have slightly different regulations in relation to exclusion from school upon detection of head lice. According to the Health (Infectious Diseases) Regulations 2001 (VIC), children with head lice must be readmitted to school after head lice treatment has commenced. This means that presence of eggs is not a reason for a child to be kept away from school.

Under the School Education Act 1999 (WA), a Principal may exclude a child with head lice from school until the treatment has commenced. The WA Department of Health recommends exclusion at the end of the school day. The child may return to school when all live head lice have been removed. A few remaining eggs are not a reason for continued exclusion.

A certificate from a doctor or council is not required before your child goes back to school. Children do not catch head lice from school, they catch it from other children when they gather together at schools. Head lice are not the fault of schools.

Prevention

A certificate from a doctor or council is not required before your child goes back to school. Children do not catch head lice from school, they catch it from other children when they gather together at schools. Head lice are not the fault of schools.

  • Check your child's hair regularly.

  • When there are head lice in your community, use Daily Control Spray on a daily basis.

  • Tie long hair up - put in a plait or braid

  • Many parents will complain that they are doing the right thing but other parents aren't. Placing the blame will not achieve anything. Instead of pointing the finger, let's help each other.

  • Spread the GAIA Hit Nitz 4 6 word to all your friends

How many children will get head lice?

Infestation prevalence rates in Australian primary schools can be between 20-40% regardless of socioeconomic factors. This means in a school with 400 children may have as many as 160 infested with head lice at any given time.

Always read the label. Use only as directed. If symptoms persist see your doctor/healthcare professional.

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GAIA Hit Nitz 4 6 provides two easy to use products to help break the head lice cycle in two steps.

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