The Facts of “Lice”: The Real Story

If the issue of lice is leaving you scratching your head, both literally and figuratively, here is the real story.

head-lice-picture
Image from https://www.sandiegounified.org/schools/birney/what-look-pictures-lice.

Lice is a part of life.  Many of us have had it as kids and now our own kids are experiencing it.  We cringe when we receive that e-mail from school that someone in our child’s class went home with lice.  It makes our head itch just thinking about it.

When you think of lice, words like, “Ew”, “Gross” and “Dirty” come to mind but lice does not discriminate.  Anyone can get it, no matter how clean you are.

There are so many rumors of how to prevent your child from getting lice and what home remedies work the best, it’s hard to know what the real story is.  Here are some facts I collected to educate parents about lice.  I am quite interested in learning myself:

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According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), “The head louse, or Pediculus humanus capitis, is a parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes of people. Head lice feed on human blood several times a day and live close to the human scalp. Head lice are not known to spread disease and is spread most commonly by close person-to-person contact.”

Lice going around your child’s school is not an uncommon thing.  The CDC states that “In the United States, infestation with head lice is most common among pre-school children attending child care, elementary schoolchildren, and the household members of infested children.   Although reliable data on how many people in the United States get head lice each year are not available, an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age.”

We all tell our children not to share hats or hairbrushes, which is all a good idea.  I was surprised though to find out that it is not common to get lice that way.  The CDC states that “Spread by contact with clothing (such as hats, scarves, coats) or other personal items (such as combs, brushes, or towels) used by an infested person is uncommon.”  While rare, it does happen “when lice crawl, or nits attached to shed hair hatch, and get on the shared clothing or belongings. “

No one wants to believe their child is dirty and we often associate lice with someone who is not very clean.  Lice does not have a good reputation but the truth according to the CDC is that “personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting head lice.”

Here are some important questions we have all asked ourselves and here are the answers:

Is mayonnaise effective for treating head lice?

CDC does not have clear scientific evidence to determine if suffocation of head lice with mayonnaise, olive oil, margarine, butter, or similar substances is an effective form of treatment.

Is it necessary to remove all the nits?

The CDC says no. The two treatments 9 days apart are designed to eliminate all live lice, and any lice that may hatch from eggs that were laid after the first treatment.

Many nits are more than ¼ inch from the scalp. Such nits are usually not viable and very unlikely to hatch to become crawling lice, or may in fact be empty shells, also known as casings. Nits are cemented to hair shafts and are very unlikely to be transferred successfully to other people.

However, parents may choose to remove all nits found on hair for aesthetic reasons or to reduce the chance of unnecessary pretreatment.

Why do some experts recommend bagging items for 2 weeks?

The CDC states that head lice survive less than one or two days if they fall off the scalp and cannot feed. Head lice eggs (nits) cannot hatch and usually die within a week if they do not remain under ideal conditions of heat and humidity similar to those found close to the human scalp. Therefore, because a nit must incubate under conditions equivalent to those found near the human scalp, it is very unlikely to hatch away from the head. In addition, if the egg were to hatch, the newly emerged nymph would die within several hours if it did not feed on human blood.

However, although rarely necessary, some experts recommend that items that may be contaminated by an infested person and that cannot be laundered or dry-cleaned should be sealed in plastic bag and stored for 2 weeks to kill any lice that already are present or that might hatch from any nits that may be present on the items.

Should my pets be treated for head lice?

The CDC says no. Head lice do not live on pets. Pets do not play a role in the spread of head lice.

Will laundering kill head lice?

The CDC states washing, soaking, or drying items at a temperature greater than 130°F can kill both head lice and nits. Dry cleaning also kills head lice and nits. Only items that have been in contact with the head of the infested person in the 48 hours before treatment should be considered for cleaning.

Although freezing temperatures can kill head lice and nits, several days may be necessary depending on temperature and humidity; freezing is rarely (if ever) needed as a means for treating head lice.

Do girls get lice more often than boys?

According to the AAD (American Academy of Dermatology), girls seem more likely than boys to get head lice. This may be because girls tend to have more frequent head-to-head contact than do boys. You’ll often see girls in head-to-head contact at school, on the playground, at camp, or at a slumber party.

Is it true lice only like clean hair?

The AAD states that the lice do not care whether the person has squeaky-clean hair or dirty hair. The lice are looking for human blood, which they need to survive.

Does Tea Tree oil help to prevent lice?

According to HeadLiceCenter.com, head lice are attracted to us because of our distinctive human smell. Essential oils are very fragrant and their strong flavors hide our human smell and keeps lice away. Essential oils may act as insect repellents, and this is why they can help preventing head lice.

Of course, as many other head lice prevention solutions and head lice treatments there is no scientific evidence that essential oils prevent lice. Research on tea tree oil is quite recent and though several studies have shown the effectiveness of tea tree oil or other essential oils for lice removal, more research is needed and you should be careful when using such oils.

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I remember as a child sitting in my bathroom while my mother picked through my hair with a special lice comb.  Now a days, lice is a big business!!!  You can actually hire a professional lice picker, which means they do the dirty work and can guide you through the whole process.  From what I hear, it makes the situation a lot less stressful.  SIGN ME UP!

I have yet to experience my kids getting lice (I just totally jinxed myself), but if  when I do, at least now I am armed with the correct information and resources.  I am super itchy writing this article so it’s time for me to sign off.  Have a “lice” day! 🙂

girl scratching head

If you have tips from your experiences with lice and kids, let us know!

 

To learn more about head lice, visit:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Head Lice Center

American Academy of Dermatology