Question of the Week

October 14, 2007


For many, just the thought of head lice makes their skin crawl and their heads itch. Just the fact that anyone can get head lice, and lice can spread easily where groups of people gather makes them an issue in schools.

"Because lice are parasites, they will set up house on anyone's head, whether that person is clean, dirty, in second grade, in fifth grade, black, or white. Anyone who says that people who get lice are dirty doesn't know that lice love everyone and that includes the cleanest kid in the class!"

Lice can spread in schools, but they can also spread in other places where there are groups of people.

"While some parents believe schools are a prime location for the transmission of head lice, the parasite is just as likely to be passed on at other places, including movie theaters and slumber parties. Head lice are spread by direct contact with infested people or materials. Lice don't spread disease and aren't dangerous, but their bites may cause an itchy and inflamed scalp and persistent scratching may lead to skin irritation and even infection."

In addition to spending time together, friends and teammates often share hair brushes and clothing. This helps the lice travel from person to person.

"Anyone can get head lice, but they are more common among school-aged children. Head lice spread more easily among children 3 to 12 years of age because they share their belongings more often than adults and play close together. ... Head lice are very contagious. No matter how many times you or your child takes a shower or washes his or her hair, it's still possible to get head lice from head-to-head contact with someone who is already infested with lice. You can also get head lice if you share hats, towels, pillows, combs or brushes with someone who has head lice."

While most people have heard of lice, not everyone who has had lice knows what they are.

"A louse is a parasite (say: par-uh-site), which means it feeds off of other living things. Lice (the word for more than one louse) are about the size of a sesame seed, and are tan to gray in color. ... It's very easy for a person with lice to give it to another person when they come into close head-to-head contact with each other... Lice cannot jump or fly, so a person can't catch lice by simply sitting near someone who has lice."

"[A] person can't catch lice by simply sitting near someone who has lice." This is a common misconception.

"There are many misconceptions about head lice. They do not transmit communicable diseases. They do not jump or fly; they can only crawl. Head lice depend completely on their host for nourishment; their only source of food is human blood. The prevalence of head lice infestation is no different in individuals with long hair than in those with short hair. Head lice seldom occur on eyebrows or eyelashes. They infest persons from all socioeconomic levels, without regard for age, race, sex or standards of personal hygiene. Animals are not a source of human lice."

As there are misconceptions about how lice are spread, there are also misconceptions about how to get rid of head lice.

"Head lice can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription products. Shampoos and lotions that kill head lice contain pesticides and other chemicals, so it is important to talk to your doctor before using these products, especially if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have allergies or asthma. It is also not safe to use products with pesticides on or near your eyes. If you find head lice or nits in eyelashes or brows, talk to your doctor. The products that kill head lice don't usually kill all nits. To reduce the risk of another lice infestation, pick the remaining lice and nits by hand or by using a special comb (one brand name: LiceMeister comb) to remove them. Comb through all of the hair one section at a time every 3 days or more often, for at least 2 weeks or until you stop seeing head lice and nits. You should also use hot water to wash any bed linens, towels and clothing recently worn by the person who had head lice. Vacuum anything that can't be washed such as the couch, carpets, your child's car seat and any stuffed animals. Because head lice don't live very long away from the scalp, you don't need to use lice spray on these items."

Questions of the Week:
What do you, your friends, and your family need to know about lice? How can you reduce your risk of catching lice? If you, a friend, or a family member gets lice, what can be done to minimize the risk them spreading to others? What do you think can be done to help educate your peers so that they better understand the truth about what lice are, how they are spread, and what can be done to limit their ability to spread?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site