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Head Lice: Picking Out the Facts

Finding head lice can be upsetting. You may be wondering: How did they get here? Are they dangerous? How do I get rid of them? How do I stop this from happening again?  This information sheet will give you some basic facts.

Head lice are a common problem, especially in children, all over the world. This is not something new; we’ve been dealing with this throughout human history. 

  • Head lice do not cause illness and do not spread disease.
  • There’s no need to panic if you have head lice. 
  • A lot of people get mistakenly treated for head lice when they may not even have it. You should always do a proper inspection before deciding to treat.
  • On the other hand, it is possible to have head lice and not know it. Even though the main symptom of head lice is an itchy scalp, it doesn’t always happen. A thorough inspection of the head is necessary in order to be sure. 
  • To confirm a case of head lice, you need to find live lice; or, at the very least, live eggs (nits). If you find a few nits that are far up the hair shaft, not close to the scalp, this is not enough to indicate a case of head lice.
  • Once everyone in the family has been checked, those with head lice should be treated. There are several options for treatments. Special shampoos, conditioners, sprays, and lice combs can all be found at your local pharmacy. 
  • Many home remedies for treating head lice are either dangerous or not effective or both. Do NOT try the following: insect sprays, motor oil, gasoline, alcohol, flea soap, dyes, bleaches, heat applied to the scalp, garlic and essential oils.
  • Head lice cannot jump or fly. They crawl. They are usually spread by direct hair-to-hair contact. It’s also possible (but less likely) to spread lice by sharing bedding, hats, combs, hairbrushes and headphones.
  • Adult lice can live for up to 30 days on a person’s head, but live only a short time away from the scalp.
  • HealthLinkBC (the BC Health Website) says 2 days, but some other resources say 3 days or 4 days.
  • Human head lice cannot live on pets, and pets are not a factor in spreading them.

For more information about head lice, visit HealthLinkBCFile #06 or Vancouver Coastal Health Manual - Section 16.

Tara Loseth, RPh. September 2014

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