Wetter and colder winter weather means cases of headlice increase we spend more time indoors in close proximity. Head lice (Pediculus capitis) affects only humans, and cannot be passed on to, or caught from animals. Head lice are common in schoolchildren, particularly between the ages of 4 and 11, but anyone with hair can catch them. The lice are small wingless insects that feed on blood obtained by biting the scalp. These bites tend to be itchy and this itchiness is caused by an allergy to the lice. Female lice lay their eggs at the hair roots, particularly near warm areas behind the ears and at the back of neck. These eggs appear as white or white coloured grains and are best removed with a fine comb while the hair is wet.
Infestation often causes itching of the scalp, but may also go unnoticed. If you suspect head lice, check the base of hairs for eggs and comb the hair over a piece of white paper and the lice will appear as pink or brown specks. Sometimes an infestation is marked by tiny red spots on the scalp. Lice may be visible in the hair behind the ears and at the nape of the neck as these are favourite spots for infestations.
Head lice are transferred by close hair-to-hair contact. They cannot jump, fly or swim, but walk from one hair to another. It is a misconception that head lice infestation is as a result of dirty hair and poor hygiene.
Lice can be a persistent and recurring nuisance, so it is important to treat them quickly and thoroughly. If one member of the family needs treatment it is important to check the rest of the family and treat if live lice are seen.
WET COMBING METHOD
Wet combing, is used to remove lice without using chemical treatments. This method is helpful because head lice are growing increasingly resistant to insecticides used to remove them. The following steps are best to follow:
- Wash the hair as normal using an ordinary shampoo.
- Apply conditioner liberally to wet hair (this causes lice to lose their grip on hair).
- Comb the hair through with a normal comb first. With a fine tooth nit comb (available in pharmacies), comb from the roots along the complete length of the hair and after each stroke check the comb for lice and wipe it clean. Work methodically over the whole head for at least 30 minutes.
- Rinse the hair as normal.
- Repeat every three days for at least two weeks.
MEDICATED LOTION OR RINSE
Only use a lotion if you find a living (moving) head louse. Apply the preparation according to the instructions, and remove the lice and eggs with a fine-toothed nit comb. Treatment should only be done once and then repeated seven days later. There is no need to wash clothing, or bedding, if they have come into contact with head lice. This is because head lice quickly die without a host to provide warmth and food.
There is a vast array of insect repellants available in pharmacies. In recent years easy to use treatments such as Lyclear® Crème Rinse (contains lice comb in pack) are proving popular as they involve only a 10 minute treatment. Lyclear® Crème Rinse can be used on children over 6 months. Lyclear has a pleasant smell and is suitable for asthmatics.
ELECTRONIC LICE COMB
RobiComb® is an example of an electronic lice comb. It detects and kills lice without the need for chemicals. It uses an AA battery.
The best prevention is normal hair care and checking yours and your family's hair and scalp periodically. If your child has long hair, tie it back as this helps to reduce the likelihood of contact between their hair and that of an infected child. Regular combing of hair using the “wet combing” method (see above) can help with early detection as well as treatment. Repellants (available in pharmacies) may help to prevent head lice but effectiveness is unclear.