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Head lice

Head lice are small insects that live on the human scalp. They are common and cause concern and frustration for parents, children and young people. Head lice are small, flat insects, about 2-3mm long. They live on the scalp and they lay eggs (nits) on strands of hair.


Anyone can get head lice. It doesn't matter how clean or dirty a person's hair is. Head lice spread by crawling from one person's hair to another's, usually between people who are in close contact, such as family or school classmates. 

Head lice:

What do head lice look like?

Head lice can be white, brown or dark grey. They are usually in the hair at the back of the neck or behind the ears.

Female head lice lay about 7-10 eggs each night. The eggs are small and hard (like a grain of salt) and are normally pale grey in colour. Eggs are laid close to the scalp, are normally pale grey in colour and are firmly glued to strands of hair. After hatching, the empty egg cases are white. Eggs hatch in 9 days and head lice live for 40 days.

Checking for head lice

In school-age children check for head lice often, at least once a week. Scratching, scratch marks or a rash can be a sign that your child has head lice. But not all children complain of itchy heads. At least once a week, check the scalp for head lice insects and eggs, especially:

If you find head lice or eggs, you will need to treat them.


Chemical treatments or wet combing are the usual ways to treat head lice. Talk to your pharmacist, doctor or nurse for advice. Ordinary shampoo or soap will not kill head lice. Do not use fly spray, kerosene or animal treatments, as these may harm children. 

Chemical treatments use a special shampoo or lotion that kills the head lice and the eggs. Follow the instructions that are supplied with the chemical treatments.

Always do a second treatment 7-10 days after the first. This is to kill any head lice that may have hatched after the first treatment. 

Wet Combing 



It is not possible to completely prevent head lice because they are very common. There are things you can do to stop head lice from spreading. 

For more information please click here for the Ministry of Health guidelines.