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Head lice, scabies and threadworm

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Head lice

There's no nice way to dress this up: children’s bodies are magnets for headlice and other nasties. One day your little darling will bring some unwanted guests home from the park, nursery or school, and you need to know how to send them packing.

Head lice

These tiny insects like nothing more than human hair. They don't mind if it's dirty or clean, curly or straight - as long as they can hang around in it, sucking blood from the scalp and laying eggs on the hairshafts. The eggs then hatch into more head lice, leaving behind their empty cases, called nits.

Spot them

Head lice are quite hard to see - they're about as big as a sesame seed. But if your child has any, he may scratch his head a lot, particularly behind the ears and at the nape of his neck.

Treat them

  • Get wet combing. Wash your child's hair, put loads of conditioner on it and comb the lice out with a bug-busting comb. It's painstaking and it has to be done every three days for at least two weeks - but it works.
  • Alternatively, try a special head lice treatment that will kill the lice for you - ask your pharmacist for advice

Don't use any of these treatments unless you've already found live lice on your child's hair.

Keep them away?

Check the hair of everyone else in your family (by wet combing). Lice can't jump or fly but they can crawl from head to head when they touch. Only treat those who have live lice.


Scabies are teeny-weeny spidery mites that burrow under the top layer of your child's skin and lay eggs, which then hatch into more scabies.

Spot them

Your child will have intensely itchy, red bumps, often between his fingers and toes or behind his knees. The itching tends to get much worse at night.

Treat them

Ask a pharmacist for an appropriate treatment and for advice on using it properly.

Keep them away

Treat the whole family at the same time or you'll re-infect each other. Hot wash bedding, towels and clothes. Wash hairbrushes and vacuum carpets and cushions. Put pillows, toys and anything else that can't be washed into a bin bag, tie it up and leave it for two weeks, by which time the scabies mites will have died.


Surprisingly, threadworms are as common, and as easy to catch, as head lice. Children touch and then swallow the microscopic worm eggs without realising, and the worms hatch in their gut, wriggling out of the their bottoms at night to lay more eggs.

Spot them

Your child will usually have a very itchy bottom at night. And you can often see the worms - they look like little white cotton threads - wiggling in your child's poo.

Treat them

Ask a pharmacist for an appropriate treatment.

Keep them away

Treat the whole family at the same time or you'll re-infect each other. But ask your pharmacist for advice before treating children under two or if you're pregnant. Hot wash everyone's bedding, towels, pants and pyjamas. Vacuum and dust to clear the house of eggs. Keep your child's nails and hands scrupulously clean, and his nails short.

And, while the treatment's working, wash his bottom every morning with soap and water, preferably by showering. If your child no longer wears nappies, he should wear pants in bed until the problem has cleared up.

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Reviewed on May 11, 2017

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