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Guide to Lice (Pediculosis)


What are head lice?
The head louse is an insect that lives and breeds on your head. Head lice feed themselves by biting your scalp.
Having head lice (pediculosis) is common; as many as 6–12 million people worldwide get head lice each year.
Who can get head lice?
Anyone who comes in close head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice can get head lice.
Head lice are found more often among children between the ages of 3–10, and their families. Girls get head
lice more often than boys, women more than men.
How do I know if I have head lice?
· Tickling feeling of something moving in the hair.
· Itching, caused by an allergic reaction to the bites.
· Irritability.
· Sores on the head caused by scratching. These sores can sometimes become infected.
How do you get head lice?
· By close head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice. Contact is common during play at
school and at home (slumber parties, sports activities, at camp, on a playground, etc.).
· By using hats, scarves, combs, brushes, hair ribbons, pillows or towels recently used by someone with head lice.
What do they look like?
The insects are tiny, wingless, move quickly, and are difficult to see. They
cannot jump or fly. They are 1–2 mm long and greyish brown in colour.
There are three forms of lice: the nit, the nymph and the adult.
Nits: Nits are head lice eggs. They are hard to see and are often confused
with dandruff or hair spray droplets. Nits are found firmly attached to the
hair shaft. They are oval and usually yellow to white. Nits take about 1 week
to hatch.
Nymph: The nit hatches into a baby louse called a nymph. It looks like an
adult head louse, but is smaller. Nymphs mature into adults about 7 days
after hatching. To live, the nymph must feed on blood.
Adults: The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, has 6 legs, and
is tan to greyish-white. Females lay nits; they are usually larger than males.
Adult lice can live up to 30 days on a person’s head. To live, adult lice need
to feed on blood. If a louse falls off a person, it dies within 2 days.
How are head lice treated?
· There are many products available to treat head lice.
· Before buying any product, talk to your pharmacist.
· Talk to your doctor before treating:
- children under 2 years;
- a person with a seizure disorder;
- a person with a scalp infection.
· Buy a head lice shampoo or cream rinse from your drug store.
· Apply the product following instructions carefully.
· Head lice products kill the head lice and many eggs, but one treatment may not kill all   the eggs.
treatment 7-10 days after the first t hair shaft.
· It is suggested that you limit shampoo use, or not shampoo, between the two treatments and in the week
following the second treatment. This will likely allow the head lice product to work more effectively.
· Check the head daily between treatments to remove any nits that are still present. Use a bright light to
help you see. Carefully check all sections of the head to remove as many nits as possible.
What if a baby or a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding has head lice?
Call your family doctor or The Motherisk Program at The Hospital for Sick Children at 416-813-6780 for advice
before choosing a treatment product. If pregnant and treating others, wear plastic or rubber gloves.
Do I need to clean my house?
You must wash hats, scarves, hairbrushes, combs, or any other item that is worn or used on the head, as well
as pillowcases, towels and bed linens after the first and second treatment in very hot soapy water. Items that
cannot be machine-washed should be dry cleaned or placed in an airtight bag for 10 days to two weeks.
Excessive house cleaning is not necessary, but it may be advisable to vacuum surfaces where heads have rested
(e.g. sofas, seats of cars and helmets). Do not use insecticide sprays.
How can I control the spread of head lice?
· Discourage head-to-head contact and sharing of hats, scarves, hairbrushes and combs.
· Tie long hair back in braids.
· Check the heads of all family members and people in close contact in case someone else has head lice.
· All family members with head lice should be treated at the same time.
· Tell all close contacts of the person with head lice to check their head. As well, tell the child’s teacher
and/or daycare worker.
· You cannot prevent head lice by using head lice shampoos or products – use them only if you have head lice.
· Check young school age children regularly for head lice; more often if there is an outbreak.
Important points to remember
1. Be sensitive to your child’s feelings!
2. Lack of cleanliness does not cause head lice.
3. Both children and adults can get head lice.
4. Short hair does not prevent the spread of lice.
5. Head lice do not live on dogs, cats or other animals.
For more information call the Toronto Health Connection at 416-338-7600