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Dealing with head lice

Anyone that has had head lice knows the frustration of trying to eliminate them. Head lice are often found among school children because they often have close head-to-head contact with other children. During the summer months when children are out of school, lice can still be spread by the sharing hats/helmets or close contact with other children.

Head lice are very small insects that live on the scalp of the head. They are grayish brown in colour and only 1-2 mm long.  Their eggs (commonly called nits) are usually found attached to the hair close to the scalp.

To get rid of head lice a special head lice shampoo can be used. Talk to your pharmacist about the different products available. Consult your health care provider if treatment is needed for pregnant/breastfeeding women, children under two and anyone with seizure disorders. If skin on the scalp is broken or infected, or if lice are present in the eyebrows, eyelashes or beard a health care provider needs to be contacted before beginning treatment. Directions for head lice shampoo need to be followed carefully.

The shampoo will eliminate the live lice but not the nits. Nits need to be removed manually. Removing nits is a lengthy process, it helps if a family member or friend can help. The best way is to pick them out of the hair by hand or with a special fine tooth nit comb. Working in bright light makes it easier to spot the nits. Small sections of hair can be checked at a time, and removed nits should be placed in a bag. Vinegar can help to loosen the nits from the hair strand. After the section has been checked and nits removed that section of hair can be pinned back. This process is repeated until all hair has been checked. The hair needs to be checked daily (twice a day is best) for at least three weeks even after nits are no longer being found.

Furniture that has been exposed to head lice should be vacuumed. Bed sheets, towels, combs and brushes need to be washed in hot water. Heat from the washer or dryer will kill any lice. Any items that cannot be washed should be sealed in a plastic bag until all lice are gone.

For more information please contact the Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit at 519-355-1071.