Media releases

January 21, 2014

Nits, lice ... makes your head scratch just to mention them

A rise in calls to the Medibank 24/7 Health Advice Line, higher Google search stats and questions on online health forums show that parents all around Australia start searching for head lice remedies as an essential part of their back to school readiness and preparations.

Dr Ian Boyd, Medibank Medical Director is quick to dispel the myth that head lice is a socio-economic or class problem, and says it is definitely not related to how clean your hair is.

"Anyone can get head lice, but they are most common in children aged between four and 11 and girls seem to be more likely to get them than boys. Head lice can be found in all types and lengths of hair. Everyone should know that having head lice is not a sign that your hair is dirty.

"Head lice cannot jump, fly or swim, so you can only get head lice through head to head contact and they can only live for a short time away from the scalp. Pets don't spread human head lice either.

"Importantly, while head lice are annoying and can be pesky to get rid of, they don't make you sick. Some people don't experience any symptoms at all, but most will get an itchy scalp. If your child scratches a lot, the skin can become broken and infections may develop, but otherwise they are pretty harmless," Dr Boyd said.

How to know if you child has head lice?
Head lice are hard to spot on the hair but you can remove and then identify them by combing them out with a special fine-toothed comb, when the hair when is wet with lots of hair conditioner.

You'll need to comb the entire length of the hair from root to tip and check the comb after each stroke by wiping it on a piece of paper or tissue, which you can then check for lice. If your child has lice, you should be able to see one or more grey or brown little insects about 1- 3mm in length.

How to get rid of head lice?
There are two main ways to treat head lice:
1. Insecticide products - There are a number of different brands insecticide products available containing synthetic or natural insecticides or other chemicals. These products usually need to be applied twice, seven days apart, so that any lice that hatch from the eggs after the first treatment are also killed. No treatment will kill all the eggs so you have to follow the instructions and do a second treatment.
2. Wet combing with conditioner - Also known as the comb and conditioner method can also remove head lice and needs to be repeated every two or three days for at least two weeks. It's important you comb every strand of hair from root to end and keep doing wet combing until there have been three consecutive sessions without seeing any lice.

It's important to wash pillow cases, hats and hair brushes in water hotter than 60C, but there's no need to wash other bedding, or to treat carpet or furniture with insecticides.

Once you commence treatment your child can return to school. Check again using a fine tooth head lice comb a few days after treatment.

Dr Boyd's top five head lice hints and tips:
"If you're pregnant or breastfeeding you should check with your pharmacist before using any insecticides and don't use them on children under the age of two.

"Some people think they are still infected when it's actually the chemicals irritating their skin, so make sure you comb and check before repeating the treatment and ending up with a raw scalp.

"Too often people think their child has been re-infected with head lice from another culprit, when the truth is the probably just didn't fully get rid of them in the first place. It is common for treatment to fail, because it wasn't done properly or the lice are resistant to an insecticide.

"The best way to prevent head lice spreading is to check your whole family regularly, keep long hair tied back or in plaits, and don't share brushes, combs, or pillows.

"Parents can prepare their kids for school by investing in some hair ties, a fine tooth comb and conditioner!" Dr Boyd said.

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