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October 06, 2016

Head lice: Unwelcome guests

The school has just sent you a notice advising you that a head lice outbreak has been reported. Oh joy, oh bliss! In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the spread and prevention of this dreaded plague.

What are lice?

Head lice are tiny heat-seeking parasites that feed on blood. While their lifespan is relatively short (6 to 8 weeks), they reproduce at an astoundingly rapid rate. In fact, a female can lay 4 to 10 eggs per day for 3 to 4 weeks.

The female attaches her eggs, called nits, to the root of a hair. Nits are white and translucent, making them difficult to detect in blond hair.

How do lice spread?

Lice spread by moving from one person’s head to another’s. This is why transmission is most common in groups of people who are in close contact with one other. While clothing, hairbrushes and other personal belongings (e.g. hats, combs, scarves, blankets, pillows) are not common pathways of transmission, they still should not be shared when lice are present.


Contrary to popular belief, lice do not jump or fly. They rather crawl and cling to the hair of their hosts with their hook-like claws.

What are the signs and symptoms of a lice infestation

There are several signs and symptoms that can indicate the presence of head lice, including:

  • A red, itchy scalp, especially near the ears and back of the neck
  • Eggs (nits) solidly attached to the root of the hair, less than a centimetre from the scalp
  • Live lice observed in the hair during a scalp examination

Symptoms often appear one to two weeks after the infestation has occurred.

Good to know!
You can have head lice without presenting any signs or symptoms. This is why regular inspection of children’s hair is a must during the school year.

Who is most at risk of getting head lice?

Head lice infestations are more common in children, since schools and daycare centres are ideal places for transmission. That being said, adults too, can get head lice.

Good to know!
Having head lice has nothing to do with personal hygiene. Lice do not discriminate. Anyone can get them! 

How long can lice live on an object?

Lice rarely live more than 24 to 36 hours on an object. They need a warm, moist environment to survive.

Can a head lice infestation be prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to prevent head lice. Certain prevention measures can limit the spread of the infestation and regular lice checks will help you detect the problem early. Here is what you should do during the school year: 

  • At least once a week, closely examine your child’s scalp, particularly around the ears and back of the neck.
  • If your child presents signs and symptoms of head lice (e.g. scratches or complains of being itchy), carry out the scalp examination systematically. Do it daily if the school tells you there is an outbreak. 
  • Tell your children not to share personal belongings, such as hats, combs, barrettes and scarves.
  • Be particularly attentive when examining the head of children with blond hair. Nits are less visible and more difficult to detect in lighter hair. 

If you find nits or lice in your child’s hair, you will need to start the treatment right away. You will also have to check all family members. However, only those infected with lice or nits need to be treated. It is also extremely important for you to notify your child’s school or daycare so that the appropriate measures can be taken.

Good to know!
Preventive treatments are useless and ineffective. Treat only the family members who actually have lice. 

How to check for lice

Here is how to do a proper examination of the scalp: 

  • Start by wetting the person’s hair. 
  • Work in a properly lit area. You can use a flashlight or magnifying glass to help you better detect the nits or lice.
  • Use a fine-tooth comb for the examination. 
  • Separate a strand of hair about the width of the comb.  For very long hair, separate strands of 2 cm in width.
  • Run the comb through each strand of hair starting from the scalp down to the end. 
  • After going through a strand, check the comb for nits or lice. 
  • Pay special attention to the back of the neck and ears. 
  • Wash your hands well after the examination. 

Pharmacy services

Found lice on one of your family members? You need to begin treatment as soon as possible. You can always ask your family pharmacists for advice on treatment options. They can also prescribe* medications for certain minor health problems when no diagnosis is required, as is the case with head lice. A consultation will be required so the pharmacist can make sure you meet the prescribing criteria.

To avail yourself of this service, you may need to book an appointment with your family pharmacist. Ask a member of the pharmacy team for more details. Some Uniprix-affiliated pharmacies also offer an online appointment booking service. To locate the store nearest you providing this service, click here

*Certain conditions must be respected. Fees may apply. Ask a member of the pharmacy team for more information. Pharmacists alone are responsible for the practice of pharmacy. They offer related services only on behalf of pharmacist-owners.

Services in pharmacy are the sole responsibility of pharmacist-owners. Only pharmacists are responsible for pharmacy practice. They only provide related services acting under a pharmacist-owner's name.

The uniprix.com Website deals with health-related topics. The information presented has been validated by experts and is accurate at the time of posting. In no way does it replace the opinion of a health care professional. Uniprix Inc. and its affiliated pharmacists accept no liability whatsoever in connection with the information provided on this Website.