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The facts about head lice

Head lice. Nits. Creepy crawlies. It’s enough to make your head itch even if you are not infested with the parasitic wingless insects that feed on human blood and live close to the scalp.

Head lice are a fact of life around Australian schools and childcare centres, with many parents frustrated by the trouble of getting rid of them. And as the lice are evolving into super bugs that are increasingly resistant to the treatments which in the past have successfully eradicated them, they can be difficult to treat.

It is comforting to know that head lice are generally harmless but any creepy-crawly in our children’s hair demands attention regardless of the fact that getting rid of them is sometimes easier said than done.

Head lice cannot fly or even jump but move from host to host by crawling or climbing directly from head to head. They can be transferred from shared combs, however research shows that head lice are rarely transferred through clothing, hats, furniture or bedding.

They commonly affect children, however adults can also get them.

Having found head lice, the next step is to try to get rid of them.

Your pharmacist is a great first port of call to talk to about treating head lice. Treating head lice involves the removal of head lice and nits from the hair by either using the conditioner and comb method, or chemical treatments. Your pharmacist will generally stock both special combs as well as shampoos, cream and other products some of which contain a special insecticide.

The conditioner and comb method involves the use of conditioner and a special metal fine-toothed nit comb. The conditioner briefly stuns the lice making it easier for the nit comb to trap and remove the nits.

If you decide to use a chemical, it is important that you follow the instructions closely that come with it. Two to three chemical treatments with a week in between each should remove living lice. No single chemical treatment will work for everyone. A nit comb can be used to look for any signs of living lice.

However, because insecticide resistance is common, you should test if lice are dead after using a product. If they are, treat again in seven days using the same product. If the lice are not dead, the treatment has not worked and the lice may be resistant to the product and all products containing the same active compound. Wash off the product and treat as soon as possible using a product containing a different active compound. If the insecticide has worked, the lice will be dead within 20 minutes.

It is possible a head lice product could cause a reaction and should be used with care by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children less than 12 months old and people with allergies, asthma or open wounds on the scalp. With the various treatments available, it can be confusing and we can talk to you about how best to treat head lice and which products may work best for you or your children.


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