Hearing that someone in your child’s classroom has lice—or finding out that your own child does—is not a very pleasant experience, to say the least. But you should feel reassured about at least a few things:
- Head lice can be treated by a variety of methods—and you can get rid of them.
- Having lice does not mean that you or your child aren’t clean or have poor hygiene. Anyone and everyone can get lice.
- Head lice do not spread disease—sometimes body lice can spread diseases, but head lice have not been identified as carrying any diseases.
- If you are 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.1-3
How do head lice spread from one person to another?
Lice have no wings, so they can only crawl—but crawl they do, and they can be very, very fast. Here is an overview of how lice spread—and what you can do about each one.
Head lice spread by direct contact with an infected person’s hair.
- Kids will hug each other and literally “put their heads together.” You probably can’t completely prevent this—nor would many parents actually want to. Just be cautious of any child who is scratching his or her head constantly or who complains of an itchy head, and follow up with the school nurse or the child’s parents.
Head lice can also be spread by indirect contact with personal items that the infected person 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 his or her own “personal” comb or brush.
- Also, make sure your child uses her own hair ties, barrettes, scrunchies, and hair pins and doesn’t borrow these 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 he or she has his or her own gear, and keep track of it. At the pool or gym, make sure your child has his or her own towels and other personal items.
How to Keep Lice from Spreading—and Coming Back!
First of all, there is 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.4-6
After you treat your child’s head with your chosen treatment and have removed all the nits (the lice eggs found on the shaft of the hair follicle), there are a number of steps that are recommended.
- Everyone in the household should change his or her clothing and bed linens. These items, as well as any hats, scarves, coats, and gloves, should be washed in hot water (at least 140o F).
- Dry them with heat for at least 20 minutes.
- If something is not machine-washable, take it to the dry cleaner—but please 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.
- 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 safer—go out and get 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!