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Parenting -- Head lice

Head lice is common among tamariki three to 11 years old. It occurs when small bugs get onto your child's hair and lay eggs on their scalp.

What you need to know

  • Anyone can get head lice. They spread easily from one child to another.

  • Lice don’t carry or pass on diseases, so they won't harm your child, but they can be itchy and hard to get rid of for parents.

  • You can get rid of head lice by using a treatment from your doctor, or by combing out the eggs and lice from your child's head.

How to check your child for lice The main symptom of head lice is generally an itchy scalp or head. Follow these steps to check your child’s head:

  1. You need good light to see the tiny eggs and lice, so try to sit your child near a window or lamp.

  2. A whānau member can hold your child on their lap to help keep them still and happy while you check their scalp.

  3. Look behind your child’s ears, around the bottom of the hair line, and on top of the head. You may see lice eggs and wriggling lice, once they hatch.

  4. Lice eggs typically look like tiny grains of sand or dandruff that are attached to hair (unlike dandruff, you won't be able to rub off or flick the lice off your child's hair).

  5. Wash your hands carefully once you have checked.

Anyone can catch head lice – it has nothing to do with personal hygiene.

Getting rid of lice There are two main ways to remove lice:

  1. Use 4 per cent (4%) dimethicone lotion: a doctor can prescribe this treatment (it may be free or low cost), it's very effective and you only use it twice on your child, with a week between each use. Follow the package directions closely and if you have questions, phone Plunket Line or your pharmacist.

  2. Wet combing: this treatment takes a bit more time and requires patience, as it involves using conditioner and a fine-toothed comb to remove lice eggs and fully-grown lice from your child’s hair. This can take a while, depending on how long/thick the hair is, and must be done properly to remove every single lice from your child’s head.

If one person in your whānau has head lice, everyone must be checked.

  • Treat all family members on the same day to make sure it doesn’t spread.

  • Contact anyone who has had close head-to-head contact with your child, if they have lice.

Prevention Head lice are highly contagious, and it's hard to prevent them especially among children that are used to playing closely together. There are a few things you can do to try to prevent lice though including:

  • tying long hair back

  • checking for lice if you suspect your child may have head lice.

You don’t have to wash your bedding in hot water, it’s unlikely to help stop the spread of lice. The Ministry of Health has some more information on preventing head lice.

Head lice Ministry of Health Visit Website The Government's principal advisor on health and disability: improving, promoting and protecting the health of New Zealanders.

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