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Head lice

Information on how education and care services manage head lice.

About head lice

Head lice are small wingless biting insects that live and breed in hair.  Outbreaks of head lice are common in education and care settings and can infest people of all socio-economic positions and age groups. Outbreaks can be minimised by parents checking their children regularly and following recommended treatment methods when active lice are found.

Some animals have lice, but lice that live on animals will not live on humans. 

How head lice are spread

Head lice are spread by direct head-to-head contact or by contact with items recently used by someone with head lice including combs, brushes, hats, pillowcases. 

Signs and symptoms

May lice infestations cause no symptoms and less than half causing itching.  You need to look at hair to see if lice are present.

When inspecting the hair you may see small white or brown oblong eggs attached to the hair shaft that are difficult to move.  Adult lice are 2mm to 4mm long and whitish brown in colour.

Treatment

A number of head lice treatments are available without prescription. 

The two most common head lice treatment methods are wet combing, and chemical treatment.

Wet combing

Experts recommend the cheaper, simpler and safer treatment method of wet combing.  

Wet combing involves wetting the hair and scalp liberally with hair conditioner to stun the head lice, then combing out the lice and nits. Refer to the SA Health fact sheet for more information.

This should be repeated every 2 days until no live have been found for 10 days.

Chemical treatment

Chemical treatment uses pediculicides to kill the head lice. Directions are included on the packaging and are safe if used in accordance with instructions.

Treatment should be repeated every 7 to 10 days until no lice or nits are seen.

Education and care services can seek reimbursement from the Department for Education head lice shampoo provided to school card holders by going to the intranet and downloading and completing a general purpose claim form (staff login required). This can then be forwarded to the School Card team within head office (courier number is R11/16A or email educationSchoolCard [at] sa.gov.au).

For more information refer to the invoicing of materials and services charges process map (staff login required), or contact School Card on 1800 672 758 or at educationSchoolCard [at] sa.gov.au

Incubation and infectious period

Incubation period

This is the time between becoming infected and developing symptoms.

Lice usually hatch in 7 to 10 days.

Infectious period

This is the time when an infected person can infect others. Remember:

  • as long as the eggs or lice are active others can be infected
  • hatched lice can lay eggs after 10 days
  • lice live up to 35 days on the scalp
  • lice do not survive more than 2 days away from a human host.

Exclusion period

Where head lice is found in a child during attendance at the education or care service the child does not need to be isolated or collected by the parent. The education and care service should:

  • remove the child from direct head-to-head contact with other
  • class activities involving head-to-head contact are avoided.

The parent should be contacted and advised to arrange for their child to be checked and treated as soon as possible and before the child returns to the education or care service.

Persistent or resistant infections

Head lice are becoming resistant to chemicals contained in some lice treatments.  The resistance to maldison and pyrethrin has been reported across Australia and in the UK resistance to permethrin is widespread. If lice are not dying after treatment, or where recurrent head lice are noted, using a product with a different active ingredient or treating with the wet combing technique is recommended.

In the event of persistent or resistant infestations or where head lice are persistently detected in a group of children the education or care service leaders can seek assistance or advice from your local pharmacist or health professional.

Responsibilities 

Education or care service

Education and care services are not responsible for the management of head lice in the community and are not expected to conduct mass head inspections or to treat children.

Education and care services should:

  • educate families and children about head lice prevention and control
  • send periodic reminders to families to check hair regularly as a preventative measure
  • support parents with practical advice and support families experience difficulties with controlling head lice
  • conduct learning activities that minimise head-to-head contact during outbreaks of head lice.

Where head lice are detected or suspected, services should:

  • keep the parents of the infested child and children in close contact with information about head lice treatment
  • advise parents to check their child’s hair daily for at least 3 weeks.

SA Health have developed management guidelines for the control of head lice in South Australia for education and care services. More information on head lice can be found on the head lice management guidelines for schools page of the SA Health website.

Parents

Parents should:

  • check their child and other family members regularly for lice
  • make sure their child does not attend education or care services with untreated head lice
  • inform the education or care service when their child has head lice and when treatment is started
  • use appropriate head lice treatments to address infestation.

Communication to the school community

The school community should be informed when a child or staff has been identified to have head lice.

Information can be included in the education or care service newsletter or as an additional document. This should include fact sheets and an explanation notice (example below).

Contact

Disability and complex needs team

Phone: 8226 3620
Email: education.health [at] sa.gov.au