A child brushing their hair in the mirror.

What is head lice?

Head lice are tiny, greyish-brown, wingless insects that live on the scalp, feeding on human blood. They lay eggs that stick to strands of hair very close to the scalp. Once the egg hatches, the empty case is called a nit. Head lice do not cause illness or spread disease. 

Visit HealthLink BC for more information about head lice


Symptoms of head lice may include:

  • Crawling or tickling sensation on the scalp
  • Itchy scalp due to a sensitive reaction caused by the bites
  • Scratch marks or small red bumps like a rash

How to find out if your child has head lice

Where to look for lice and nits

  • close to the scalp
  • behind the ears
  • the back of the neck
  • top of the head

What to look for

  • child scratching the head
  • adult lice (sometimes difficult to see because they are very small)
  • eggs - also called nits (easier to see than adult lice)

Nits are firmly attached to the hair, close to the scalp. They are greyish-white and oval in shape, and may look like dandruff but cannot be brushed off.

How to check

  • shampoo the hair and rinse
  • put on enough hair conditioner to cover the whole scalp
  • use a wide-toothed comb to untangle the hair if necessary
  • use a fine-toothed comb to search for lice and nits
  • have your child lean over the sink
  • comb the hair from the back of the head to the front
  • after each stroke, wipe the comb on a paper towel and look for lice



If you find any lice or nits, use the “wet-combing” method to treat them. Use a hair conditioner or a head lice shampoo, available at drug stores.

Ask your Public Health Nurse or Licensing Officer for a pamphlet that explains how to treat using the “wet-combing” method, or refer to the BC Health File on head lice.

What to do at home

  • If another child has head lice, check your child’s hair for nits immediately. It’s a good idea to check children once a week for head lice.

  • If anyone in your family has head lice, treat everyone living in the home on the same day and do the following things on the same day:

    • Clean brushes and combs with very hot water. Everyone should use their personal brush or comb.
    • Wash hats, pillowcases and stuffed animals in hot water. Use a hot dryer, if possible.
  • Children with head lice should begin treatment before they return to the child care centre or school. Let the child care centre or school know if your child has head lice.

It is not necessary to do a lot of house cleaning. Lice do not live long once they are off the scalp.


The best way to control head lice is through the cooperation of parents, children, daycares, schools and health care providers. Checking the hair of all family members regularly using the wet combing method is the best way to prevent the spread. Encourage children not to share hats, combs, hair accessories or hairbrushes. If your child has long hair, tie it up or put it in a braid.

Having head lice once does not prevent someone from getting them again. Regular checks for head lice can be part of a family’s hygiene routine.