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Inuvik pharmacist explains: how to manage head lice

Stewart Burnett/NNSL photoMarie-Claire Savoie, NorthMart Pharmacist
Marie-Claire Savoie, NorthMart Pharmacist

Head lice can happen in all socioeconomic classes, especially in children of school age, and can cause a lot of stress and concern for infected people and their families.

Marie-Claire Savoie, NorthMart Pharmacist

While head lice cause emotional trauma, they are neither deadly nor a carrier for disease, but treatment is required. This type of head louse is only common to humans, lives on the scalp, and feeds on blood.

Adult head lice are approximately 1-3 mm of white-grey colour, and after feeding on blood their colour turns to red-brown. Head lice can move very fast. Adult head lice live around 16 days and this provides enough time for a female to lay eggs (nits). Eggs are laid and attached tightly on the base of the hair, close to the scalp. They hatch within six to 10 days, and become transmissible eight days later.

The spread of head lice happens largely by direct head-to-head contact. Head lice can neither jump nor fly or be transmitted by pets. It is important to know that lice can live outside the human host for 24 hours, up to 4 days in certain environments, but nits can live up to 10 days. They can also be transmitted by sharing brushes, headwear (hat, headband), towels, scarves, coats, and other types of clothing and personal items.

The symptoms associated with head lice are itching of the scalp and small red bumps around the face, ears, face and base of the neck. However, some people may have no symptoms until a few weeks following the infestation.

The best way to identify head lice is to see live head lice by combing the hair with a fine-tooth comb. Dandruff, dermatitis and hairspray droplets can at time be confused for nits, however, the main difference is nits would be holding tightly to the base of the hair and would be challenging to remove.

Treatment is recommended for anybody found with live head lice and all other family members living in the same house should be inspected. Pets do not need to be treated because they do not transmit human head lice. Carefully review the application instructions of the treatment. With some products, the application has to be repeated in seven to 10 days. Certain products are also more suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and others are not recommended for infants or children less than two years old.

You should also wash personal belongings of the infected person in hot water, this include pillowcases, sheets, towels and items frequently in contact with the hair (hats and headband). Any items that cannot be washed should be placed in an airtight plastic bag for a minimum of two weeks. Combs and hairbrushes can be soaked in hot water (60C) for at least 10 minutes. Floors and furniture should be vacuumed, but it is not recommended to spray the house with insecticides.

Do not hesitate to verify with a healthcare professional, such as your NorthMart pharmacist, to discuss the best treatment to treat head lice and reduce resistance or treatment failure with proper use. Clients with NIHB coverage may receive treatment with full coverage of the medications at no cost, as your pharmacist is now able to recommend a number of effective head lice treatments and bill them directly to NIHB without a physician’s prescription.