The Northwestern Health Unit provides information and resources on head lice upon request. We do not offer hair checks or provide treatment for head lice.
What are head lice?
Head lice (Pediculosis) are small insects that live in human hair. They are smaller than sesame seeds and have 6 legs. They only live where they are warm, usually where there is a lot of hair – especially behind the ears and back of the neck. Lice need human blood to live and multiply and look reddish brown after feeding. They do not hop, jump, or fly.
They can live up to 3 days off the human body and up to 30 days on a person's head.
Nits are the “egg” stage of lice. They may look like dandruff but they cannot be flicked off - they are glued to the hair and cannot be washed out. Nits are small, white and oval (they may look cream or tan coloured in very light hair). They are easier to see in dark hair.
What are the symptoms of head lice?
Head lice can cause an itchy scalp. Very tiny eggs that are half the size of a pinhead, oval in shape, gray to brown in color lay close to the scalp. They may look like dandruff but are firmly glued to the hair and can’t be flicked off.
How do head lice spread?
Head lice crawl quickly from one person’s head to another. Head lice is spread from close head-to-head contact with an affected person and sharing things that are in direct contact with a person’s hair (such as combs, brushes, barrettes, hats, scarves, helmets, towels, pillows, coats).
Treatment options are available at your local pharmacy without the need for a prescription. Ask your pharmacist.
Preventing head lice
Take the following steps to prevent head lice:
Avoid crowded conditions.
Place coat hooks a good distance apart.
Teach children to avoid head to head contact with other children.
Do not share things like pillows, towels, coats, hats or hair accessories
Keep children in separate beds on sleepovers. Change the sheets when a different person will be using them.
More to know
- Head lice are not spread by lack of cleanliness.
- Wash combs, brushes, headgear, pillowcases, sheets and towels in hot water.
- Both children and adults can get lice.
- You cannot prevent head lice by using head lice shampoos or products; use only if lice are present.
- Short hair does not prevent the spread of head lice.
- Head lice do not carry or cause disease.
- Lice do not live on cats, dogs, or other animals.
- Lice occur as frequently as the common cold and occur 12 months of the year.
- Be sensitive to your child’s feelings!