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Head Lice


Head lice (pediculus humanus capitis) are small, wingless insects that live, breed and feed on the human scalp.  Head lice spread from person to person via direct hair to hair contact with someone who has head lice. Head lice do not have wings or jumping legs so they cannot fly or jump; they can only crawl along hairs and from head to head.



Lice do not carry or transmit disease, but can cause itchiness. The itchiness is generally a result of a reaction to the saliva of lice. Excessive scratching may lead to a rash or infection.



Spotting lice
Adult lice can be hard to spot because they move quickly and do not usually cause an itch, so you have to look carefully to find them. Louse eggs (also called nits) are laid within 1.5 cm of the scalp and are firmly attached to the hair. They appear as white specks on the hair and resemble dandruff, but can’t be brushed off.


The easiest and most effective way to find head lice is to:


Step 1
Comb any type of hair conditioner on to dry, brushed (detangled) hair. This stuns the lice and makes it difficult for them to grip the hair or crawl around.


Step 2
Comb sections of the hair with a fine tooth comb.


Step 3
Wipe the conditioner from the comb onto a paper towel or tissue.


Step 4
Look on the tissue and on the comb for lice and eggs.


Step 5
Repeat the combing for every part of the head at least four or five times.

To prevent lice, it is a good idea to tie long hair back and check hair regularly.



If head lice are found it is best to start treatment as soon as possible. Talk to your Health Care professional to determine the best treatment for your needs.



The content displayed on this webpage is intended for informational purposes and is a guide only. It does not replace or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Information contained on this webpage must be discussed with an appropriate healthcare professional before making any decisions or taking any action based on the content of this webpage.



Better Health Channel

Department of Health (Vic)