Head Lice: How Do You Get It?
Hearing that someone in your child’s classroom has head lice—or finding out that your own child does—is not a very pleasant experience, to say the least. Don’t panic. Cast aside your perception of lice and find out how lice outbreaks can spread and ways you can keep yourself and your family safe.
Get the Straight Facts
When it comes to lice, you can take comfort in the facts.
1. Although they carry an ick factor, head lice don’t spread disease. Body lice can sometimes spread diseases, but head lice haven’t been identified as carrying any diseases.
2. Head lice can be treated by a variety of methods—you can get rid of them. If you’re concerned about the safety of some of the lice treatments out there, you can use natural treatments. Some research shows that they can be effective in treating infestations.
3. Having lice doesn’t mean that you or your child have poor hygiene. Anyone can get lice.
Transmission: Head-to-Head Contact
Lice have no wings, so they can only crawl—but crawl they do, and they can be very, very fast. Head lice are spread by direct contact with an infected person’s hair. Kids often hug each other and literally “put their heads together,” so it’s prominent among the younger set.
While you probably can’t completely prevent this—nor would many parents want to—keep your eye out for any child scratching their head constantly or complaining about an itchy head. Follow up with the school nurse or the child’s parents.
Transmission: Personal Items
Head lice can also be spread by indirect contact with personal items that a person infected with lice used. Hats, scarves, helmets, and caps shouldn’t be shared. Even shared lockers or coat racks have been associated with spreading head lice. Make sure your child has their own personal comb or brush and doesn’t borrow hair ties, barrettes, scrunchies, and hair pins from other children. Be very open and honest with kids—they don’t want head lice any more than you do.
If your child is involved in a sport, make sure that they have their own gear and keep track of it. At the pool or gym, make sure your child uses only his or her own towels and other personal items.
The Lives of Lice
There’s no need to spray your home and belongings with potentially dangerous insecticides. Lice are known as “obligate parasites,” meaning they don’t survive very long without their human host. They need us to live, and they die within 24 to 48 hours after removal from a human host.
Once you treat your child’s head for lice and remove all the nits (the lice eggs found on the shaft of the hair follicle), follow the steps on the following slides to prevent the infestation from spreading.
Prevent the Spread
Everyone in the household should change their clothing and bed linens. Wash these items—as well as any hats, scarves, coats, and gloves—in hot water (at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit). Dry them with heat for at least 20 minutes. If something is not machine-washable, take it to the dry cleaner. Just be sure to warn them about the reason the items need to be cleaned.
Vacuum all chairs, sofas, headboards, and anything that may have contacted anyone’s head.
More Ways to Prevent the Spread
Soak combs, brushes, and any hair ties in 10 percent bleach or 2 percent Lysol for one hour. You can also heat them in water—as close to boiling as possible. Even better: buy new combs, brushes, and hair ties.
One last thing—do not use your pet’s flea shampoo—it is true that these contain some of the same ingredients as the human lice shampoos, but they have not been tested on children and may be unsafe to use!