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Top Myths and Facts About Head Lice

Top Myths and Facts About Head Lice
Created on 
March 27, 2017
Updated on 
June 25, 2023

We've spent the last two decades helping families get rid of lice. In that time, we have heard some questionable "facts" about head lice and the spread of head lice among human heads. People with head lice suffer enough; but some myths about head lice add an unnecessary element of psychological shame and disgust. Plus, effective lice treatment often relies on the ability to discern fact from fiction. In this article, we'll bust some myths about head lice.

Eradicating Common Lice Myths

  • Head Lice Are a Result of Poor Hygiene

    A harmful myth that contributes to the stigma of having head lice is that getting infested is a sign of poor personal hygiene. To be certain, this is untrue. Lice cling to hair follicles and feed on the blood from a human's scalp, not on skin or hair. In fact, a person who has squeaky clean hair is more at risk of contracting a case of lice than someone with greasy hair, or hair with product in it, as the strands are more slippery for the louse. At the same time, it is important to follow proper hygiene especially if someone in your home or circle of friends is found with head lice.
  • Lice Prefer One Type of Hair Over Others

    Some believe that only people with dirty hair get head lice. Others have heard that certain nationalities, ethnicities, or genders are not able to get head lice. What kind of hair do lice like? The fact is head lice like hair, any hair. If you have hair, you can get head lice.
    • Personal hygiene affects your odds, but not how you'd think. It's untrue that lice prefer dirty hair. Hair that is oily or coated in product is actually more difficult for a louse to latch onto;
    • If the hair has product in it, making it artificially dirty, it can help prevent a lice infestation;
    • People with coarse, curly hair like African Americans tend to get infestations less commonly because of the use of hair products and a flatter hair shaft. But the common misconception that African American hair is immune to head lice is a dangerous myth that could delay diagnosis and treatment;
    • Having long hair can increase the chances of getting infested. Infestations are spread by head-to-head contact where a louse can grab onto another person's hair to infect them. Because of the additional contact area, those with long hair left down can more easily contract a case;
    • Hair dye does not affect a person's probability of getting infested. They even like dyed hair and can live on it without being affected.
  • Lice Can Fly and Jump from Head to Head

    Lice do not have wings, and, unlike fleas, their legs are not springy, so they lack the ability to jump. They do not travel from head to head by flying or jumping from person to person. As mentioned before, the primary mode of transportation is crawling directly from one person's head to another person's head. They can move very quickly, despite having short legs.
LICE FACTS AND MYTHS
  • An Itchy Head Means Head Lice

    Itching is a common symptom of head lice, but just because your head itches, don't jump to conclusions. Itching from head lice is caused by the bites of the bugs, but not everyone experiences itchiness or irritation from these bites. There are many things that can cause scalp itchiness, such as dandruff or other skin irritations. So the presence or the lack of itching alone is not a good indicator of whether a person is infested or not.
  • You Must Clean Your House Thoroughly to Get Rid of Lice

    This is by far one of the most common and problematic untruths about head lice because this part of head lice treatments is often the most cumbersome and exhausting for the primary caregiver in a household - and yet it is an unnecessary step that many families take when dealing with an outbreak of lice. In addition, it adds an unnecessary expense on top of the unexpected cost of standard head lice treatment.

    Head lice cannot survive long in places such as the bed, stuffed animals, pillows, couches, curtains, carpets – basically anything that is not human hair attached to a human head. If head lice happen to fall off of the head, they are separated from the warmth and feeding that they need to survive. Without these benefits, a louse will die from starvation in less than 2 days.

    If appropriately treated, using a natural, safe treatment method that removes all bugs and eggs from the hair AND protects the hair from re-infestation after treatment, then a head lice infestation will be eradicated without the need to do fumigant sprays, clean the house, or wash excessive laundry. When wondering how to get rid of lice in your house, be leery of those recommending these extra, time-intensive steps.

  • Only Children Can Get Lice

    Head lice is rampant among young school-aged children for a reason. Head lice spread from one person to another during direct head-to-head contact. Think elementary school children roughhousing on playgrounds; middle schoolers bumping into other children in a crowded hallway between classes, or students huddling during sports.

    But can adults get lice? When any child brings home lice, another close family member is usually affected before symptoms begin. Parents mainly get lice from their child rather than other adults, but they are still at risk.

HEAD LICES
  • The Whole Family Should Be Treated with Pesticide Shampoos

    Those family members who do not have a confirmed case of head lice should not be treated with chemical shampoos (in fact, we do not recommend pesticides for anyone). These types of treatments do come with their fair share of potentially undesirable side effects and do not serve as a preventative for head lice. However, it is important to understand that these shampoos have lost their effectiveness over the years and often fail to kill lice. Head lice infestations have become increasingly resistant to these shampoos, so if your family is infected with chemical-resistant lice, these shampoos likely will be ineffective anyway. It's a good thing lice can be treated without pesticide with our highly effective head lice treatments.
  • Lice Can’t Be Caught in a Swimming Pool

    Does chlorine kill lice? Head lice don't mind taking a swim in swimming pools, lakes, or oceans; they'll just nap while you're underwater. These uniquely-adapted human parasites have specialized claws that remain firmly locked onto the hair shafts when the infested person gets wet. Can you drown lice? Head lice hold their breath up to 7 hours, and you'd need to use very hot water (130 degrees F) to kill them quicker, so drowning or washing them out isn't possible. Because water evaporates from hair pretty quickly, head lice crawl from one head to another during pool play, or transfer while sharing towels.
  • Lice Can Transmit Diseases

    This is one of those rumors that causes phobias. Fortunately, there's no evidence that head lice carry disease. Unlike the notorious body louse that can transmit disease organisms like typhus to a human host, head lice can only really cause pediculosis, which is just a fancy term for having head lice. In extremely rare cases, untreated head lice can cause anemia from feeding on too much human blood. But mosquitoes are way more likely to spread disease, so use bug spray, even though it won't help control head lice.
  • You Can’t See Lice with a Naked Eye

    It's rare to see live lice crawling on a child's head in early cases. Lice feed at night, and they'll quickly disperse when exposed to light. About a week after exposure, the eggs, commonly found literally glued to hair shafts behind the ears and neck, can be seen with the naked eye. In later stages, you may see a tan bug crawling on the scalp, about the size of a sesame seed. Looking closer, you'll see the human blood inside, making the translucent adult louse appear brownish.
lice myths
  • Head Lice Are Not Extremely Contagious

    Head lice live only on a human host; longer than two days in the environment and they're dead. Adult lice are transmitted from one person to another. A female head louse immediately starts laying eggs, and although the baby lice aren't contagious, they grow up quickly. Each of the adult female lice can lay 10 lice eggs a day, but admittedly not all viable eggs.

    Busy parents don't realize their child has head lice until they notice an itchy scalp weeks after exposure, when it's too late to avoid contact. Please note that lice are very contagious and anyone with hair is a candidate.

  • Super Lice Look Different from Regular Lice

    One of the most common myths about the new super lice is that they're bigger, faster, or stronger, or that they can fly or transmit diseases. Nope. They're still the size of a sesame seed, feed on blood, and cause the same degree of itchy scalp from allergic reaction.

    The only difference is they're immune to the active ingredients in popular treatments, and thus much harder to get rid of...when using pesticides. Fortunately, our all-natural methods work equally well on these super bugs.

  • Kids Pick Up Head Lice Mainly at School

    Myths about lice outbreaks in schools can cause unnecessary stress, since school attendance is mandatory. It is true that students in close contact can spread lice. It is false that those head lice come from the school itself, or that they'll commonly spread through an entire classroom.

    Any head lice that may have fallen off a person on Friday would be dead by Monday. When you hear about a lice outbreak at school, talk with the parents of friends your child has close contact with physically. Physical contact directly correlates with risk. For example, kids who hug, share clothing, combs, and other items, and pose for photos together are more at risk than loners with short hair. The most likely way to get lice is on a play date or other social activity when kids are close together.

Facts About Lice

head lice myths and facts
  • Head Lice Are Spread by Head-To-Head Direct Contact

    By far, the most common way head lice spread is through head-to-head contact. Within a family, if one person has it, the odds of another having it are over 70%. Head lice have six legs that have tiny claws that enable them to grasp onto the hair follicles of another person and crawl up to the scalp to feed.

    Less than 5% of the time are lice contracted from anything other than direct contact. They quickly die off their host. This is why home remedies that focus on house cleaning and machine wash of all personal belongings are overkill.

  • Lice Are More Active at Night

    Head lice are more active during the nighttime, or in the dark. Children will often lose sleep due to the crawling sensation. This is why one of the first signs that you should check your child for head lice is irritability and sleepiness.

    Because head lice are nocturnal, they're very sensitive to light. It's rare to spot any actual live lice until an infestation gets pretty advanced. This is another reason the case may escape a parent's notice for a long time.

  • Head Lice Are Usually Found on the Head

    Human head lice live their entire life cycle on human heads. Very rarely will you see any in the beard, eyelashes, or eyebrows of an infected person. When you do, these are almost always a different species, like pubic lice. To learn more about these cases, please visit our blogs about beard lice and eyebrow and eyelash Lice.

    Because head lice need a human head, which provides the appropriate climate and food source, they do not like to leave their home. Adult lice feed on human blood from the scalp from 3 to 6 times daily and will die within 24 hours when off the head. Females lay the eggs (called nits), at a rate of 6-10 eggs per day per female louse. Each louse can live for 30 days and may leave up to 100 eggs in the hair over that time. Unhatched nits or lice eggs will not spread head lice, and you'll often find an empty shell after treatment.

lice myths and facts
  • Your Dog or Cat Can Get Lice

    If your family has pets, you may be concerned about spreading a lice infestation to them when your kids get head lice. But can animals get lice? Pets can get their own types of lice from poor hygienic practices, but the types of adult louse that infest pets won't infest a child's head. Head lice feed on blood of humans, require a specific body temperature, and prefer clean hair to fur, so pets can't get head lice. If head lice crawl onto pets, they won't typically survive long enough to infest another person.
  • You Might Have Lice and Not Know It

    Of all the head lice myths and facts to be true, this one bothers parents the most. Because of the stigma that associates lice with poor hygiene, nobody suspects they have head lice until they develop an itchy head. But the itching sensation won't start until at least two-and-a-half weeks into a case, when the eggs laid by the female adult lice begin to hatch and bite. Some people never itch at all. Once you know how to calculate how long you have had lice, you'll realize that it's incredibly common to have asymptomatic lice and not be aware of it.
  • Head Lice Can Be Treated Without Pesticides

    Parents often think that chemical resistant bugs require stronger prescription treatment. While more effective, prescriptions come with more risk and expense. But no home remedies, prescriptions, or over the counter chemicals will kill eggs 100%. Since the nit comb out process is necessary for removing lice and each viable egg, why not immobilize adult and immature lice and use louse combs to remove adult lice while you're removing lice eggs? LiceDoctors has been using this completely non toxic method of effective head lice treatments for over two decades. Our method is so effective you don't even need to wash bedding or towels on a hot water laundry cycle or high heat drying cycle, soak items like hair brushes and combs, or leave hair ribbons, bed linens, or other items sealed in a plastic bag overnight, despite the head lice facts and myths you might have heard.
  • Lice Can’t Live Without a Host

    This one is fortunately true! Head lice need to feed on blood several times per day, and they need the warmth of a human host to survive. They cannot reproduce anywhere other than human head hair. This is why deep-cleaning or fumigating the house is unnecessary. Home remedies that require a machine wash or high heat drying cycle for more than just recently-used bed linens are probably overkill. Things like putting stuffed animals in a plastic bag or throwing out hair ties are absolutely unnecessary.

Contact LiceDoctors to Take Away the Myths About Head Lice

Knowing facts from fiction is key in treating head lice successfully without excess hassle. So many parents cringe upon learning just how much of their hard work and fear has been pointless. LiceDoctors offers in-home head lice removal for families. Our compassionate, skillful technicians use all-natural methods that are guaranteed to work. LiceDoctors has the lowest prices, and the sooner you call us, the less you'll spend on treatment overall. Call LiceDoctors to book an appointment today. You'll be happy you did!

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