Lice

Lice are commonly referred to as ‘nits’, which are in fact louse eggs. The louse species present in New Zealand are not cause for great concern. While lice are a public health nuisance, they are not a significant public health risk.

Photo of a pubic louse.
Pubic louse, photo by Kansas Department of Agriculture Archive, Bugwood.org.

Lice are wingless and 0.5–8 mm in length and vary in colour – some species are white or yellow, while other species are brown or black. There are 2 types of lice: chewing lice and sucking lice.

Only these species of sucking lice cause problems for humans:

  • head lice
  • body lice
  • pubic lice (or ‘crabs’).

Head lice

Photo of some head lice, with a ruler to show they're 1–2 cm long.
Head lice, photo by Jim Occi, BugPics, Bugwood.org.

The head louse is the most common human louse and can be very irritating. Both males and females can latch onto the host and feed on blood. Adult females glue their eggs (the nits) onto shafts of the host person’s hair. The eggs then take around 4–15 days to hatch.

Head lice don’t directly transmit diseases – but they can make you very itchy, and if you scratch at the itches, this can lead to secondary infections.

Photo of a body louse.
Body louse, photo by James Gathany, Public Health Image Library.

Getting rid of lice

You can find out about treating and preventing head lice at Head lice.

If you have body lice, then you should destroy any clothing or bedding that may be infested.

Visit Better Health Channel for more information on Body lice and Pubic lice.

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