Head Lice Fact Sheet


A positive diagnosis of head lice is made only when live lice are found. Lice, although a
nuisance, have not been associated with any disease process. Head lice can affect anyone in
all the socioeconomic groups and do not represent poor hygiene.

Definition and Cause

Head lice are small, tan-colored insects (less than 1/8” long) that live on blood they
draw from the scalp. The eggs (nits) are gray/white and about the size of the head of a
pin. The lice and eggs are found on the hair. Lice can live only 1-2 days away from the
scalp. Head lice crawl; they do not jump or fly. One sign of lice is an itching head.

How Head Lice are Spread

They are spread from one person to another by direct contact with hair or head gear of
infected people; or by the sharing of items such as combs, hats, and other clothing.
They are spread only by crawling lice (not nits).

Incubation and Contagious Periods

Incubation: 6-10 days from laying to hatching of eggs. Lice can reproduce 2-3 weeks after

Contagious period: until treated with a chemical that kills lice and viable eggs have been killed
or removed.


  • Apply head lice treatment (over the counter or prescription) specifically made for killing head lice. Parents should be encouraged to call their child’s doctor for a treatment recommendation. Treatments come in a variety of forms such as shampoo, cream rinse, and gel. Follow the directions on the label as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • After the hair has been treated, all eggs should be combed or handpicked from the hair.
  • While hair is still damp, comb hair through to remove tangles. Then remove nits from the hair shaft. You will need a bright light (and magnification, if available) to see the nits; a fine-toothed comb, preferably made of metal, to strip the nits; a good book or video may assist in keeping the child occupied. Comb the hair from underneath, small sections at one time.
  • To prevent re-infestation, it is essential to inspect the hair daily for one week. Continually strip any nits you may have missed by running your fingernails down the hair shaft. Although complete removal of nits is time consuming, it is necessary.
  • Inspect all family members and treat if live lice are found. Children under 2 years of age and pregnant mothers should not be treated without consulting with a doctor.
  • Lice infestations on people can be quickly and easily treated. However, unless the sources of re-infestation are also eliminated, you can become re-infested.
  • Lice can survive in the environment for 24 - 48 hours.

The Following Environmental Treatments are Recommended

  • Excessive housecleaning is not necessary; however, you should vacuum furniture, rugs, and floors.
  • Wash all recently used bedding & washable clothing in hottest cycle for 20 minutes.
  • Heat pillows, blankets, or other fabric items in clothes dryer at hottest cycle for 20 minutes. If dryer is not available, or for items that cannot be laundered with hot water, these items can be kept in a plastic bag for 10 days, if there is a concern about lice having crawled from an infested child onto these items.
  • Clean child's combs, brushes, and other hair accessories such as clips and barrettes in hot water for 5 minutes; or solution of 1/4 cup bleach in 1 gallon of water for at least 10 minutes.
  • Spraying an insecticide on furniture, rugs, or pets is not recommended.


Return to school via health office is mandatory the next day. Please accompany your child when returning to school. Upon checking the head, if live lice are found, your child will return home with you. If child has been treated and no live lice are found, your child may return to class. If nits are still present, and your child has been treated, child can return to class. Please continue removal of all nits – it is essential and can take several days.

The key to success in controlling head lice is the use of a pediculicide and removal of all lice and nits. Your understanding and cooperation are needed and appreciated.

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