Head lice

Head lice infestations are a common occurrence, particularly in primary schools.

The facts

  • head lice are one of the most commonly reported health complaints from parents and teachers
  • anyone can catch head lice regardless of their age, sex, or how clean their hair is
  • head lice move from one person's head to another via direct contact with the hair
  • head lice do not survive long when they are off a human head
  • head lice do not live on furniture, hats, bedding or carpet
  • head lice have built up some resistance to head lice treatments

Treatment

Mechanical removal and chemical removal are the two main options to remove head lice.

The Nitbusters program is a NSW Health initiative to reduce the prevalence of head lice in the community. The program is aimed at identifying and managing infestations.

‘Nitbuster days’ are coordinated by parent volunteers, who use a fine-toothed nit comb and white hair conditioner to both screen for and treat head lice.

Information about Nitbusters and standard forms that schools can download and reproduce for organising a Nitbusters Day are available on the NSW Health website. These forms are also available in translation.

Tips for parents in reducing the spread of head lice

As infestations are particularly common in primary schools, it is best to choose a treatment that can be used over time. There is no single solution to eradication, only persistence.

  • regularly check your children's hair
  • teach older children to check their own hair
  • tie back and braid long hair
  • keep a fine tooth head lice comb in the bathroom and encourage all family members to use it when they wash their hair.

What you can expect from your school

Advice from NSW Health indicates that there is no need for students to be sent home or excluded from school because of head lice.

Observing students scratching their heads is not a reliable or efficient means of assessing head lice prevalence in the school.

Where one student has head lice this serves as a warning light that there is likely to be an infestation in either specific classes or across the whole school population, including staff.

The school will send a letter home to parents (DOC 27 KB) when infestations of head lice occur and request that parents examine their child's hair and undertake treatment where eggs or lice are identified (Note: This resource does not currently meet WCAG 2.0 accessibility requirements. Please contact the Leader, Health & Wellbeing on 02 9266 8258 to request an alternative copy).

Schools also provide:

  • a venue for parents to get together to work out and, where relevant, implement local strategies
  • ways of communicating information about head lice infestations and treatment for parents (for example, through school newsletters).

Schools will also encourage students to avoid head to head contact in group activities as far as possible.

In rare cases, where students are experiencing a chronic head lice infestation, the school, parents and the local community may need to work together to treat the infestation.

Related information

Head lice vodcast

Translated head lice forms and letters

Public Health Units

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