Head Lice

Talk About Nitpicking!

Head lice are tiny, gray bugs. They are 2 to 3 millimeters long. They move fast and are difficult to see. Head lice live in the hair and bite the scalp to suck blood.

They attach their white eggs, called nits, to the hair. Unlike dandruff, nits can’t be shaken off. The nits are easier to see than the lice because they are white and very numerous.

The back of the neck is the favorite area for lice and nits. Lice and nits may cause your child’s scalp to itch and have a rash.

What is the cause?

Head lice live only on human beings. They can be spread quickly by using the hat, comb, or brush of an infected person, or simply by close contact. Anyone can get lice despite good health habits and frequent hair washing. The nits (eggs) normally hatch into lice in about 1 week.

How long does it last?

After you use anti-lice shampoo most lice and nits will be killed. If the lice come back, it usually means your child has had contact with another infected person or the shampoo wasn’t left on for 10 minutes. There are no lasting problems from having lice and they do not carry other diseases.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Anti-lice shampoo or rinse
  • Apply any of the commercially available products, such as Nix or Rid. Follow the directions. Most products must be used on dry hair. The shampoo kills both the lice and the nits. Repeat the anti-lice shampoo once after 7 days to prevent re-infection.
  • Removing nits
  • To make sure the nits are dead, wait at least 8 hours after using the shampoo before removing them.
  • Remove the nits by back-combing with a fine-tooth comb or pulling them out individually. Even though the nits are dead, most schools will not allow children to return if nits are present. The head does not need to be shaved or hair cut to cure lice.

Cleaning the house

  • Head lice can’t live for more than 24 hours off the human body. Your child’s room should be vacuumed. Combs and brushes should be soaked for 1 hour in a solution made from the anti-lice shampoo. Wash your child’s sheets, blankets, and pillowcases in hot water and dry them in the dryer. Items that can’t be washed (stuffed animals, hats or coats) can be sealed in plastic bags for 2 weeks (the longest that nits can survive). Anti-lice sprays or fumigation of the house is unnecessary.


Check the head of everyone else living in your home. If lice or nits are seen, or they start to get an itchy scalp rash, they should be treated with anti-lice shampoo. Bedmates of children with lice should also be treated. If in doubt, have the person checked. Your child can return to school after the first treatment with the shampoo. Remind your child not to share combs and hats.