Lice do not jump, hop or fly. People become infected by direct contact from one persons head to another.
Lice may move onto hats, combs, helmets, hair ties and other surfaces, but must return to a human head to survive within 24 hours.
Head lice do not live in carpets, sandpits or on animals.
Not everybody will itch so you must look for lice and eggs (nits).
Adult head lice are the size of tiny ants and range in colour from skin-tone to dark brown. Head lice have claws on the end of each of their six legs. These claws grasp the hair with such strength that it makes the head lice difficult to dislodge.
Nits are the eggs laid by female lice and are the size and colour of a grain of sugar. Heat generated by the body hatches eggs.
Eggs are laid very close to the scalp and stick like glue to the hair. They hatch within 7 days. The earlier the lice are identified and treated the less time there is for eggs to hatch.
Treatment and Prevention
- Wet combing technique - firstly apply conditioner to dry hair, this weakens the grip of the lice so they are more easily removed. Comb the hair with a special head lice comb and look for the lice by wiping the comb onto a tissue. This should be repeated 3 times a week for 3 weeks.
- Chemical treatment - there are 4 different types of head lice treatments available. All have different main ingredients, eg pyrethrins, synthetic pyrethrins, malathion and herbal agents. If a head lice problem continues try a treatment with a different main ingredient.
- No head lice treatment will kill 100% of the eggs. You must use the treatment 7 days after the first treatment to kill any lice that may have hatched. Removal of eggs must be done following an application of head lice treatment. Eggs can be removed by combing with a special head lice comb or with the fingernails. If eggs are not removed the problem may recur.
- Lice live on strands of hair but move to the scalp to feed. It is important that all of the hair is completely covered with the head lice treatment and is used according to instructions.
- Wash combs, brushes, towels, hats and bed linen in detergent and hot water.
- Lice can be weakened by thoroughly brushing hair morning and night. When injured or weakened, lice have difficulty gripping the hair.
- Tea tree oil applied to the hair can be used as a preventative measure against infestation.
- Get into the habit of checking the hair every time it is washed. Daily checking is necessary if there is an outbreak as everybody may not itch.
- Avoid direct head to head contact with others.
- Do not share hats, combs, hair-ties etc.
- Keep long hair tied back or plaited.
- Never use treatments as a preventative.
Further Information and Resources
Headlice Management Guidelines(184 kb). Ideal for schools and hairdressers.
For additional information please refer to the Department of Health website or contact Mitcham Council's Environmental Health Unit on 8372 8888.