The do's and don'ts of dealing with head lice

Head lice: the joy that awaits all parents at some stage.
Head lice: the joy that awaits all parents at some stage. Photo: Getty

Got kids? Then rest assured; sooner or later everyone's favourite scratchy mate will make an appearance at your house. More than once.

Head lice are right up there on the list of worst house-guests. A visit involves broken combs, tears, dirty pillows and extra washing. They don't even bring a gift, unless you count months of psychosomatic scratching as a plus and an irrational but persistent sense that the mark has been painted above your door for all to see.

Head lice are bad luck, not bad hygiene, but not everyone has got the tweet. Even the most liberal of school mums can react as though you've said you've got rabies. Social shunning and vigilante emails are not unheard of. Head lice may be small, but they have the power to test the delicate and fragile threads that hold the parenting and school community together.

Which is why we need Head Lice Etiquette. Whether it's your own kids, someone else's or even you that's infested, a framework for appropriate behaviour can, like conditioner for the social follicles, keep tangles to a minimum and see you come out the other side shiny and healthy, with friendships intact.

The Golden Rules of Head Lice:

1. If you've got them, don't tell…

When infested, the best approach is to say nothing. You can't vouch for how others are going to react and frankly, when you are itching like hell, you don't need to take their issues on as well.

Admitting your kid is one of the 17 in the class with head lice just runs the risk of ending up in the loop of accusatory emails circulating about who, or who isn't, treating their kids right and re-infesting the whole school.

However it is polite and right to inform the school. The no-names mentioned slip that goes home gives others a chance to check, treat and hopefully halt the infestation in its tracks.

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If you go to one of those schools where if you've got lice you're not allowed back until every egg has been found and eliminated – change school.

2.  If someone else has them, don't say you've never had them

You may mean no harm by casually pointing out that "we've never had them." It might even be the truth, but it just makes you look like a prat.

Telling a carrier you're a head lice virgin just adds to their paranoia, not the least is that they might be the one to pass the wingless beast onto your virgin judgmental scalp.

Besides, there's no reason to be proud of not having them. Head lice are an ancient parasite, one of our oldest companions. They like good company, from Egyptian mummies to saints, famous writers, celebrities and even the house of Germany's Next Top Model. Mums often get them because they cuddle their kids.

3.  Keep them to yourself

There's quite a bit you can do to keep the spread of head lice to a minimum. Making a conscious choice to keep your hair to yourself is one of them. Knocking off the selfies is another. Head lice love narcissism. While younger kids playing closely together is the usual ticket for head lice travel, the modern habit of pulling in to fit heads in the selfie frame have reportedly led to a revival of head lice in older ages. It's information that could help change teen behaviour. Use it wisely.

4.  Get rid of them

They're small and cunning, but don't throw the towel in the incinerator. It's your job to get rid of the little blighters. Tears and tangles, yes, but it can be done. Head to your local pharmacy and look for a product which is clinically proven to kill head lice and eggs.

Announcing after the 16th infestation that it's just too hard to get rid of them and you can't be bothered trying anymore will not win you friends or impress anyone. It's just going to make you an itchy social pariah.

5. Treat head lice-people like you'd treat yourself

When someone breaks rule number one and admits to head lice, it's not okay to pull faces, yell ewww, run screaming or send a group text warning everyone else.

It's also not okay for a hairdresser to kick a customer out of their chair and send them down a busy street in Melbourne with wet, half-coloured and uncut hair on discovering a previously unknown community of lice (true story).

Appropriate responses include smiles, sympathetic nodding and perhaps an admission to your own lice infestation (see rule 2), either real or unreal. That's it.

And if you are a hairdresser, step up. Sympathetically get out a clinically proven head lice product and treat them there and then, just as you'd hope someone would for you if you had head lice. 

6. Never forget that, one day, maybe soon, you too will have head lice.