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  • Shaken Baby Syndrome

    Tuesday, 21 July 2015 16:28
  • Amniotic fluid problems

    Thursday, 14 May 2015 12:54
  • Choosing a pre-school

    Friday, 10 April 2015 17:50
  • Newborn reflexes

    Tuesday, 03 March 2015 15:49
  • Mastitis

    Tuesday, 03 March 2015 15:41
  • Pelvic floor exercises

    Wednesday, 11 February 2015 17:20
  • Colic

    Wednesday, 11 February 2015 17:11
  • Antenatal Classes

    Monday, 03 June 2013 09:34
  • Strap-in-the-Future

    Thursday, 30 June 2011 13:52

Head Lice

Lice lrgHead lice infestations are a common problem in infants and children. Approximately 1 in 10 school-going children will contract head lice at some stage. An infection of head lice is called pediculosis. Lice only affect humans and infections are not dependent on hygiene; in fact, these insects prefer clean hair and skin. Children between 3 and 10 are most commonly affected by head lice. Lice occur more frequently in girls than in boys (, 1999-2009; MedicineNet, 1996-2010).


The head louse is a small, flat, wingless parasite that lives on the scalp, punctures the skin, sucks blood and deposits its excretory products. Adult lice are reddish-brown in colour and 1/16 of an inch long. They move very fast, are almost impossible to spot and are most commonly found at the back of the neck and behind the ears. Lice are only able to survive for 2-3 days, once they are off the human body. The head louse deposits eggs, known as nits, on the base of the hair shaft. Nits are clearly visible as tiny, grey specks that have a dandruff-like appearance. After 6-10 days, the eggs hatch and it takes 2-3 weeks before the lice have matured and are able to reproduce (Collins, 2003;, 1999-2009; MedicineNet, 1996-2010).


How are head lice transmitted?

·                Lice are transmitted through direct contact with an infected person. Personal contact commonly occurs during play, school, sports activities, slumber parties or camp.

·                Using the belongings of an infected person, such as hats, brushes, towels, combs, ribbons, sports uniforms or scarves.

·                Lying on a bed, couch, pillow, carpet, or stuffed animal that has recently been in contact with a person who has lice (, 1999-2009; MedicineNet, 1996-2010).



·         A feeling that there is something moving around in the hair.

·         Intense itching of the scalp due to an allergic reaction to the bites.

·         Tiny red spots on the scalp, where the insect has bitten.

·         Small white bumps near the base of the hair shaft.

·                In some cases, a secondary bacterial infection may occur, resulting in a rash that resembles impetigo or the eruption of tiny boils throughout the scalp (Collins, 2003; Leary, 1990; MedicineNet, 1996-2010).


Checking for head lice

If you suspect that your child has head lice, check her hair and scalp for live lice.

·                The eggs or nits are more visible than the almost transparent adults. Nits are more likely to be found at the back of the head, within an inch of the hairline. Although nits resemble dandruff, they are firmly attached to the hair shaft. In contrast, dandruff flakes slide up and down the hair shaft with ease.

·                Examine your child’s scalp for evidence of itching and scratch marks.

·                Once the eggs have hatched, the empty nit shells can be seen at the base of the hairs.

             Check the base of your child’s hair shaft for small white bumps.

·                If you wet your child’s hair and comb it with a fine-toothed comb over a piece of white paper you may see the lice crawling (Collins, 2003;, 1999-2009; Leary, 1990).


How to treat head lice

Head lice can be successfully treated at home without your doctor’s advice, provided that your child is older than 2 years and does not suffer from asthma or allergies. In these instances, consult your doctor before using any lice preparations. It is recommended that all family and close contacts are treated simultaneously, even if they have no symptoms, in order to get rid of the lice completely and to prevent your child from becoming reinfected (Collins, 2003).


Anti-lice shampoos 

Obtain an anti-lice shampoo, such as Nix, from the pharmacy and use as directed. Generally, the shampoos are applied to washed and dried hair, until the hair and scalp are completely saturated. Leave on for the amount of time indicated on the packaging and then rinse. Consider repeating the shampoo treatment in 7-10 days, to kill any newly hatched lice. Ovide is a prescription shampoo that is applied to clean, dry hair until it is thoroughly wet, left on overnight under a shower cap, and washed out after 8-12 hours. Ovide is not suitable for newborns or infants and caution is required, because it is highly flammable. Lindane is another preparation for hard-to-treat lice (Collins, 2003;, 1999-2009).


Removing nits

To ensure the complete treatment of head lice, it is essential to remove all the nits from your child’s hair. Comb the nits out of the hair using a fine-toothed comb, preferably metal, or pull the nits off the hair with small tweezers. Use a regular comb or brush to remove all the tangles from your child’s hair and divide her hair into sections with the assistance of hair clips. Go through each section carefully with your comb, removing all lice and their eggs. This should be done on a nightly basis until all the lice and nits have been removed. If your child has lice on her eyelashes or eyebrows, apply Vaseline twice daily, until all the lice have been killed (, 1999-2009; Leary, 1990).


Cleaning the home

Because lice are able to live for up to 3 days off the human body, it is essential to take the following precautions to prevent reinfestation. Wash all combs and brushes in boiling water for 10 minutes to kill any lice or nits that may be attached to them. Similarly, wash all recently used bedding and clothing in hot water and tumble dry on a high heat. Vacuum furniture, car seats, carpets and soft toys. Place all items that cannot be washed or vacuumed, into a sealed plastic bag for 3 weeks. Change your child’s sheets, duvet cover and pillow cases daily for a week and wash in hot water (Collins, 2003;, 1999-2009).



·                The treatment of head lice can be a long, frustrating process. Be patient and persevere to ensure all the lice and nits have been removed to prevent your child from becoming reinfected.

·                Check your children regularly for lice.

·                Reduce your child’s chances of becoming infested with lice by discouraging her from sharing combs, brushes or hats with family members or school friends.

·                If there is a lice outbreak at your child’s school, an over-the-counter lice repellent may be used to minimise her risk of becoming infested.

·                Avoid using any non-approved products on your child, including lice sprays, pesticides or gasoline (Collins, 2003;, 1999-2009).


Call your doctor

·                If your child’s lice problem is not responding to treatment and has not resolved after 1-2 weeks.

·                If your child appears to have an infection on her scalp in the form of a rash that is                infected with pus, or she has honey coloured scabs (, 1999-2009).