Health Update: Head Lice

Health Update: Head Lice
Head lice are small, wingless insects that live, breed and feed on the human scalp. They do not carry or transmit disease. They have been around for millions of years and, in fact, predate human evolution. Direct contact is required for transmission from person to person. Lice will crawl from head to head without discrimination.

Half of the people who have head lice never scratch their head, so itching is not a reliable sign. Lice can be hard to spot because they move quickly.

The easiest and most effective way to find head lice is to use the conditioner and comb treatment weekly. This includes:

  • Step 1. Comb hair conditioner onto dry, brushed (detangled) hair. This makes it difficult for lice to grip the hair or run around.
  • Step 2. Wipe the conditioner from the comb onto a paper towel or tissue.
  • Step 3. Look on the tissue and on the comb for lice and eggs.
  • Step 4. Repeat the combing for every part of the head at least four or five times.
  • Step 5. If the person has been treated recently and only hatched eggs are found, you may not have to treat them again, since the eggs could be from the old infection.
  • Step 6. If lice or eggs are found, the person should be treated

Any head lice treatment product you choose should carry an Australian Registered or Listed number.

If you use lotions, apply the product to dry hair. For shampoos, wet the hair, but use the least amount of water possible.

Head lice live in the hair and go to the scalp to feed. Therefore, head lice products must be applied to all parts of the hair.

Care should be taken when using these products:

  • if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • in children less than 12 months old
  • in people who have allergies, open wounds on the scalp, or asthma.

All products can cause reactions. If you are unsure, check with your pharmacist or doctor.

Insecticide resistance is complex and common, so you need to check that the lice are dead. If the insecticide has worked, the lice will be dead within 20 minutes. If the lice are not dead, the treatment has not worked and the lice are resistant to the product and all products containing the same active compound. Find a product with a different active compound or speak to your pharmacist or doctor.

No topical insecticide treatment kills 100 per cent of the eggs, so treatment must involve two applications, seven days apart.

If you choose not to use an insecticide, the comb and conditioner method described above can be used every second day until no live lice have been found for 10 days.