At the beginning of the school year, it’s not uncommon to receive a note from school saying that head lice are back.
Fortunately these small insects—the adults are about the size of a sesame seed—are not disease vectors so they do not carry microbes that cause serious illnesses. However, they generally cause intense itchiness and scratching can lead to irritation and infection. When inspecting the head of a person with head lice, you’ll find the nits (lice eggs) at the base of the hair next to the scalp, often at the back of the neck or behind the ears. Head lice are passed from one head to another by direct contact of the hair (when hugging, for example) and more rarely by the sharing of objects that have been in contact with an infested head (comb, hat, pillow slip, etc.). Although no preventative treatment is available, it is possible to limit the transmission of head lice by tying up long hair and refraining from sharing personal objects such as brushes, combs, hair accessories, hats, caps, tuques, etc. It is also recommended to visually inspect the heads of all members of the family with a fine comb at least once a week, or every day if anyone around you is infested. See your health professional for more information about how to detect and treat head lice!