What are Head Lice?

The head louse is a parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes of people. Head lice feed on human blood several times a day and live close to the human scalp. Lice do not survive away from the scalp more than 1 to 2 days without a blood meal.1

With the increased use of helmets for head protection in sporting activities, the transmission of head lice through the sharing of helmets has become a concern.

Do head lice spread disease?

No. Head lice should not be considered as a medical or public health hazard. Head lice are not known to spread disease. Head lice can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.

How are Head Lice Spread?

Head lice are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person. Head-to-head contact with an already infested person is the most common way to get head lice. Head-to-head contact is common during play at school, at home, and elsewhere (sports activities, playground, slumber parties, or camp). Although uncommon, lice can be transmitted by contact with clothing (such as hats, scarves, coats) or other personal items (such as combs, brushes, or towels).1 Personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school has  nothing to do with getting head lice.



Treatment of head lice can be started with over-the-counter 1% permethrin lotion or with pyrethrin combined with piperonyl butoxide, both of which have good safety profiles.

For lice resistant to over-the-counter medications, treatment options include spinosad suspension, benzyl alcohol lotion, malathion, and ivermectin lotion which are ovicidal, and a single treatment may be adequate, though no treatment is 100% ovicidal.1


Head Lice and Helmets

Head lice feet are specially adapted for holding onto human hair. Head lice would have difficulty attaching firmly to smooth or slippery surfaces like plastic, metal, polished synthetic leathers, and other similar materials. This makes it very hard for them to adhere to the materials in helmets and very easy to remove.

Cleaning Helmets

To clean helmets between uses by different students:

  • Wipe helmet linings with a damp cloth to remove any lice or nits left inside. More vigorous cleaning is not recommended because this can cause damage to the helmet.
  • Clean and disinfect with benzalkonium chloride or rubbing alcohol.

Barriers to Prevent Contact with Helmet

Disposable shower caps or inexpensive liners can be worn under helmets as a further precaution.

1 Davies, HD., Jackson, MA., & Rice, SG. Infectious Diseases Associated with Organized Sports and Outbreak Control. Pediatrics. 2017; 140.

Need more information?

Canadian Pediatric Society