Head Lice

  • Can my child go to school with head lice?
    • NYC Schools have a “No Head Lice” policy. Students who have live head lice are not allowed to go to school until they are lice-free. Students with nits are still allowed to attend.
    • Students may return to school the day after treatment for head lice as long as there are no live lice upon re-inspection by designated school personnel.
    • Students will be re-inspected by a school worker 14 days after the treatment to make sure there are no live head lice.

    What are head lice?

    • Head lice are small insects with six legs. They are usually the size of a sesame seed (the seeds on burger buns).
    • Lice live on or very close to the scalp. They won’t wander far down the hair shafts for very long.
    • Lice can only live on human beings; you can’t catch them from animals.
    • Nits are not the same thing as lice. Lice are the insects which move around the head. Nits are egg cases laid by lice. Nits are smaller than a pin head and are pearly white.
    • If you have nits it doesn’t always mean that you have head lice. When you have got rid of all the lice, the nits will stay stuck to the hair until it grows out.
    • You only have head lice if you can find a living, moving louse (not a nit) on the scalp.

    Are head lice contagious?

    • Anybody can get head lice by coming into contact with an infected person, but spread of head lice requires direct head to head contact. Head lice can’t swim, fly, hop or jump.
    • Head lice can be spread as long as lice or eggs remain alive on the infected person’s clothing.
    • Head lice are generally caught from close family and friends in the home and community, and not from the school.

    Can head lice be prevented?

    • The best way to stop a head lice infection is for families to learn how to check their own heads. This way they can find any lice before they have a chance to breed.
    • Instruct children not to share hats, combs, and brushes. They should avoid touching an infested person’s unlaundered clothing and bedding.

    What are the symptoms?

    • Head lice symptoms often start to appear 2 to 3 weeks after the head lice infection. Usually, the first indication of an infection is itching or scratching in the area of the body where the lice feed. Examine your child for head lice if (s)he is scratching at the back of the head or around the ears. Examine your child for crab lice if (s)he feels itchy around the genital area.

    What do I do if I suspect my child has head lice?

    Check Your Child’s Head for Lice

    • Wash your child’s hair well and then dry it with a towel. The hair should be damp, but not dripping.
    • Make sure you have good light. Daylight is best.
    • Comb the hair with an ordinary comb.
    • Using the teeth of a fine tooth comb, touch the skin of the scalp at the top of the head. Brush the comb carefully towards the edge of the hair.
    • Look carefully at the teeth of the comb in good light.
    • Do this over and over again from the top of the head to the edge of the hair in all directions, working around the head.
    • Do this for several minutes. It takes at least 10 to 15 minutes to do it properly for your child’s head.
    • If there are head lice, you will find one or more lice on the teeth of the comb.
    • Head lice are little insects with moving legs. They are often not much bigger than a pin head, but may be as big as a sesame seed (the seeds on burger buns). Nits are smaller than a pin head and are pearly white.
    • If your child only has nits (lice eggs) make sure you have brushed them all out with the fine tooth comb.
    • Read the next section for what to do if your child has adult lice (not nits).

    If you Find Adult Lice (Not Nits)

    Treat All Family Members Who Have Lice.

    • Check the heads of all the people in your home.
    • Only treat the people who have living, moving lice (not nits). If a family member has nits, carefully brush them out with a fine-tooth comb.
    • Treat all of the people in your home who have adult lice at the same time.

    To treat:

    • Lice treatment options include medicated shampoos, cream rinses and lotions. Many treatments (such as products permethrin or pyrethrins) are available over-the counter. 
    • Put the lice treatment lotion on dry hair of the family members with lice.
    • Use the lotion in a well ventilated room or in the open air.
    • Part the hair near the top of the head, put a few drops on to the scalp and rub it in. Part the hair a bit further down the scalp and do the same again. Do this over and over again until the whole scalp is wet.
    • You don’t need to put lotion down long hair any further than where you would put a pony-tail band.
    • Let the lotion dry on the hair. Some lotions can catch fire, so keep well away from flames, cigarettes, stoves, and other sources of heat. Don’t use a hair dryer.
    • Treat the people who had lice again seven days later. Treat them in the same way with the same lotion.
    • Check all heads a day or two after the second treatment. If you still find living, moving lice, ask your healthcare provider for advice.

    Get the Lice Out of Your Home

    • Clean all bedding, towels and clothing from the infected individual with soap and hot water (140 degrees F). Place them in a dryer for at least 20 minutes to help kill any remaining lice.
    • Dry-clean all clothes that need to be dry-cleaned.
    • Seal the infested individual's stuffed toys, and other infested items that can’t be laundered, in a plastic bag. Leave them for 10 days to allow all lice to die of starvation.
    • Get rid of, or soak combs and hairbrushes in rubbing alcohol or the medicated shampoo used to kill lice.
    • Throw out any hair accessories, such as hair elastics and ribbons.
    • Thoroughly vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture.
    • Pets cannot become infested with head and body lice, so no precaution is required.