Lice are tiny (1 to 3 mm long) insects that are greyish white (or reddish brown after they have fed) and that live near the hair roots. They can also live in the eyebrows or in beards. Every day, they lay approximately 5 nits (lice eggs), which hatch after approximately 10 days. Live nits are light grey and are approximately 1 mm long. They look like swollen dandruff or sesame seeds. They generally attach to the hair less than 6 cm from the scalp. And since they cling to the hair, they are difficult to remove.
Lice are parasites that feed on the blood of their human host. They bite the scalp and inject their saliva, which can cause itching and small red sores near the ears and the nape of the neck. Itching can start from 4 to 6 weeks after infestation.
Head scratching is often a sign of a lice infestation, but you can only be sure with a visual inspection. Finding nits doesn’t mean you have lice, as inactive or empty nits can stay in the hair even after lice have been treated. A visual inspection is done by going through the hair with a fine-toothed comb.
Remember that head lice:
Lice move very quickly from the head of an infested person to someone else through direct contact. Children can easily catch lice, as they often do activities with their heads close together and give each other hugs. Schools and daycares are places were lice get spread a lot.
Lice can only survive for 2 to 3 days if they aren’t in contact with a human being. They don’t spread as easily through contact with personal items (e.g., hats, combs, hair brushes, pillow cases, etc.). However, nits can live for up to 10 days away from the human body.
If you receive a notice from your school or day care service asking you to check your child’s head, don't take this lightly. Quick screening and treatment will prevent lice from spreading to family members and other people.
Lice are resistant to ordinary shampoos, and no treatment can prevent a lice infestation. However, there are things you can do to prevent lice:
Regularly check your child’s hair and scalp with a fine-toothed comb (a special lice comb). Check for lice:
To check your child’s head, make sure you have good light. A magnifying glass can also help. Wet the hair before checking it. You can use conditioner, as this helps with combing and can soften any nits that may be in the hair.
Look for lice and nits particularly behind the ears and near the nape of the neck. Start with the nape and ears and divide the hair into sections about the width of the comb. Check the hair one section at a time by running the comb from the scalp to the hair tips. After running through each section, check the comb for nits or lice. Once you finish checking, don’t forget to wash your hands.
It’s easy to confuse nits with dandruff, dead scalp skin, dust or dirt. The difference is that nits cling to the hair, and you sometimes have to remove them with your nails or tweezers.
If you find live lice or nits on your child’s head, you must treat them.
If you find live lice:
Lice treatment may not work for various reasons:
Some people suggest using fatty substances, such as petroleum jelly , mayonnaise, olive oil or margarine, to “suffocate” the lice. Although these products can make it harder for lice to breathe, no study has demonstrated that they actually kill lice. Vinegar and lavender are other popular home remedies, but no study has demonstrated their benefits. No data indicates that hair dye is effective at getting rid of lice.
Clean all personal items that come into contact with hair, such as caps, hats, combs, hair brushes, accessories and toys used on a regular basis. You should also wash any clothing, pillow cases, bed sheets and towels used in the previous 2 days.
Depending on the item, choose the cleaning method that is best suited:
Furniture, floors and items that can’t be washed (e.g., armchairs, stuffed animals, carpets) must be vacuumed, and the vacuum cleaner bag must be thrown out. Insecticide sprays are strongly discouraged. These products are ineffective for lice infestations and can pose a major health risk for people and animals exposed to these potentially toxic products.
For more information about how to treat and clean objects that have been in contact with your child, don't hesitate to consult your pharmacist.