Around three million people in the UK catch head lice every year – and they’re most common among school children. Your child’s hair can be long, short, straight, curly, light, dark, clean or dirty – head lice aren’t fussy where they live.
The truth about head lice
1. Head lice can be found on clean or dirty hair, they have no preference!
2. Head lice cannot jump, swim or fly. They walk from one head to another by close, prolonged head contact.
3. It’s not only children that catch head lice. Anyone can catch head lice, including Mum, Dad or Gran!
4. Itching is not always a symptom of head lice. Only 30% of people with head lice will have an itchy head.
5. You cannot catch head lice from pets; they can only live on human heads.
6. It’s not only people with long hair that can catch head lice, short hair provides no protection.
7. If your child has head lice there is no need to keep them off school. However, you should inform the school and any other children that your child may have come into contact with. This process is known as ‘contact tracing’.
Telling if you have them
Most children will start to vigorously scratch their heads – often during their sleep. However, head lice don’t cause everyone’s heads to itch, especially if you’re an adult.
By examining the hair, you may see a live head louse – which will do its best to hide! You may also spot eggs – brownish if un-hatched or white if empty.
Another tell-tale sign is louse droppings. These look like a dusting of pepper on pillows or clothes.
Remember, the only way to be sure treatment is necessary is by finding a live louse on the head. Spotting eggs (hatched or un-hatched) or having an itchy head doesn’t mean you have head lice.
Telling your children they have them
Finding a live head louse can be upsetting – but the important thing is not to make a big fuss. It’s perfectly normal to have head lice – about 1 in 10 primary school children will catch them each year.
Some parents find it useful to give head lice a nickname – such as bugs, crawlies or nits. Explain that, apart from causing itchiness, they are completely harmless insects that live in anyone’s hair, clean or dirty.