Head Lice Facts for Parents

  • The head louse is a parasitic insect that can be found on the heads of people.
  • Head lice can be a nuisance but they have not been shown to spread disease.
  • Head lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly.
  • Head lice are spread by head to head contact with an already infested person. It is infrequently spread through indirect contact with personal belongings.
  • Dogs, cats and other pets do not play a role in the spread of human lice.
  • Personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting head lice.
  • Head lice and nits (eggs) are found on the scalp.
  • Signs and symptoms are tickling feeling of something moving in the hair, itching (caused by an allergic reaction to the bites), irritability and difficulty sleeping (lice are most active in the dark) and sores on the head caused by itching (secondary infection can result from these sores).
What do I do if my child has head lice?
  • Check all family members. Do NOT shampoo anyone that does not have live lice. All persons in household with live lice should be treated at the same time. Contact your physician for treatment of infants and pre-school children.
  • Before applying treatment it may be helpful to remove clothing that can become wet or stained during treatment.
  • Wash your child's hair and scalp with a medicated pediculicide shampoo. They are available over the counter or by prescription from your physician. Be sure to follow all instructions with the box as how long the medication should be left on and how it should be wash out.

    WARNING: Do not use a combination shampoo/conditioner or conditioner before using lice shampoo. Do no re-wash hair for 1-2 days after lice shampoo is used. Conditioner and washing hair too soon will reduce the effectiveness of the lice shampoo.
  • Be sure to put on clean clothing after the treatment is completed.
  • If after 8-12 hours live lice are still found but are moving slowly, do not retreat as the medication may take longer to kill all the lice.
  • If after 8-12 hours live lice are still found and are moving rapidly contact your healthcare provider for recommendations.
  • Comb all dead lice and nits out of hair using the fine-toothed nit comb that comes with the shampoo. Check head and use nit comb every 2-3 days for 2-3 weeks after treatment to ensure all nits are removed and reduce chance of re-infestation.
  • Retreat with lice shampoo 7-9 days later to kill any lice that my have hatched from missed nits. Read box to see if this is recommended for the shampoo you are using. Most over the count medications recommend to retreat.
  • Machine wash and dry all clothing, bed linens (including pillows) and other items that were used or worn by person with head lice during the 2 days before treatment in hot water and high heat to dry. If item cannot be washed seal in a plastic bag and store for 2 weeks.
  • Soak combs and brushes in hot water for 5-10 minutes.
  • Vacuum carpeting, mattresses, upholstered furniture and inside of the car (especially where children sit or lie to play and/or watch TV).
  • Please contact the school nurse if you have treated your child. The nurse can assist you with follow up and information as needed.

    What do head lice look like?

Head lice have three forms:
the egg (also called the nit), the nymph, and the adult.
Head Lice Picture
Actual size of the three lice forms
compared to a penny. (CDC Photo.)

  1. Head lice are wingless, gray-brown, flat, six-legged insects usually found on the scalp and hair of a person.  These insects do not hop, jump or fly.  They lay eggs called nits that are clear, grayish white, oval shaped eggs, which firmly attach to the hair shaft and are difficult to remove. They may be mistaken for dandruff or scalp flakes, which remove easily.
  2. Head lice can be passed from one student to another through the sharing of hats, combs, brushes, personal items, pillows and bedding. Sleepovers with friends and relatives can be good social times but sometimes result in sharing head lice.
  3. Lice occur in all socioeconomic levels regardless of age, gender or standards of personal hygiene.
  4. Lice cannot live on dogs, cats, other household pets, or on hard surfaces.

How to check for head lice?

  1. Take small sections of hair and part looking near the scalp as that is where both the lice and nits will be located.
  2. Repeat this in a pattern until all hair is checked making sure to inspect especially around the nape of the neck and around the ears.
  3. If lice or nits are found follow the above instructions for cleaning of both your child's hair and your household in order to get rid of the insects.
  4. Please notify any other families in which your child has been at their home or slept at so they can increase their surveillance as well.
View the following document for information on what to do about head lice: What to Do

For additional information, visit this website: KidsHealth/Head Lice