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Time to Say Goodbye to Lice Stigma

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Updated on June 25, 2020

By Leila Giles, Head Lice Technician

When I meet my clients, we start with a conversation. I explain how their day will unfold and they introduce me to their family’s situation. Everybody wants to tell me how long ago their lice transmission occurred. Folks always have a guess, but few know for sure. Did it happen at summer camp? School? Dance class? They received no email from the dance instructor, no cautionary text from the mom next door. When did their child get head lice and from whom?

People hesitate to share news of a lice infestation. So, the lice are passed along mysteriously, their origins unannounced, and their unwanted arrival unexpected. Stereotypes, assumptions, and a general sense of embarrassment keep mouths shut. But there’s no good reason why this stigma should exist.

Lice Don’t Make You Dirty

One of the strongest associations for lice is that of dirtiness. Some people assume that only “dirty people” end up with a lice problem. If their own children pick up lice, they wonder what they’ve done wrong to create a lice-friendly environment. After all, they wash their hair frequently, take daily baths or showers, how could did their clean child have gotten head lice? LiceDoctors - No One Wants Lice 

This “lice = dirty” line is a myth! Lice are transmitted by head-to-head contact, and anyone with hair is vulnerable. In fact, it’s easiest for lice to grip clean strands. If the hair is greasy ie dirty, then the lice may slide off and not make it to the scalp. Lice only live on the head as they get their food supply (blood) there. These insects have no use for the rest of your body or for your house. Whether or not you vacuumed doesn’t matter to them. You will likely not find lice on the rugs, cushions, or couch. You will likely not find them on your child’s shirt, backpack, or jacket. Where you will find them is in your child’s hair and each louse will live there for a month and females will lay many eggs during their short lifespan. 

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Lice Aren’t Too Different from a Head Cold

Tuesday morning at the bus stop, your neighbor starts up a conversation. She noticed that your daughter wasn’t here yesterday. Is everything alright? You say yes, thanks for asking, we just caught a cold over the weekend. Everybody is feeling better today. So why should this script run any differently if your child brought lice home instead of a virus?

Having insects in your family can feel embarrassing. You can see lice, so we recognize that they are living creatures. That’s an uncomfortable thought. But although viruses are microscopic, they are similar to parasites. The problem isn’t that different. Our culture recognizes that everybody picks up something sometimes—especially kids. Lice are common, transmitted during normal social interaction, and they can be treated. Unlike the common cold though, lice are not an illness; they are a nuisance. Perhaps we should be saying, “My child has head lice. That shows that she is a normal, healthy, social child who, as a result of lice transmission from a friend, now is one of several million kids each year who get lice.”  Just as kids can get a cold from friends so they can get head lice, and it is not so easy to prevent that occurrence.

The Limited Movements of Lice

Lice stigma can manifest in avoidance of a family who has recently been treated. People fear going into a home that had lice or letting their kids play together. This is also rooted in some myths.

Once all live lice have been removed from a head, that person is no longer contagious, even during a follow-up protocol to address any remaining nits. Lice cannot live for more than 24-48 hours off the human head, and they are not well designed to reattach on the rare occasion that they fall off because they weaken very quickly off the head. Nits simply cannot find a new host; they are not contagious. They are considered inert or dead when and if they fall out of the hair (which isn’t likely because these lice eggs are glued to the hair). 

It is also safe to be in the same room as a person with lice, as long as you are not head-to-head. These animals can only crawl, they cannot jump, fly, or swim. And since many schools no longer prevent kids with nits from attending, chances are your child has been exposed to that child already. Even if the child is itchy after treatment, if the treatment is an effective one, then the itching is from the lice bites and it is normal for your head to itch for a few days after treatment.

Stigma Hurts Your Neighbors

When you’re going through the tiring task of lice removal, it’s easy to shy away from added pressure. Talking to people whom you saw while you were infectious doesn’t sound like a fun experience. You might be nervous about those (untrue) stereotypes. But staying silent can cause distress for other people in the long run. Folks who know about their lice exposure have a better chance of catching any bugs before their presence becomes severe.

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If you want to alert people about an exposure risk but are concerned about negative feedback, enter the conversation prepared. Make sure that you explain to the parents of your child’s friend that it is in their best interest to get a head lice check and if they have a positive diagnosis, they need head lice treatment. Ignoring lice will not make them disappear. The LiceDoctors website is full of resources for getting head lice facts and dispelling misconceptions. You could even pass along a few articles.  LiceDoctors - How Do I Tell My Child's Friend's Parents that My Child Has Lice? 

LiceDoctors Can Help

Regardless of how you feel about head lice, their presence can bring about stress. You don’t have to tackle this problem alone. There are head lice centers available but the best course of action is professional lice treatment in your home. By calling for a LiceDoctors lice specialist, you will receive personalized lice treatment in the safety and comfort of your own home. You do not have to be concerned about exposure to kids with lice or kids with germs or people knowing your business. LiceDoctors has an unmatched track record: 500,000 successful lice treatments. The best of all is that LiceDoctors provides all of this at an affordable price that is less than pricing at a lice place.

Call LiceDoctors at 512-318-2929 any day of the year to schedule an appointment, and a trained technician will be able to assist you in the convenience and privacy of your own Pflugerville or Jollyville area home. Because no chemicals are used, LiceDoctors lice removal service is safe for infants, young children, pregnant women, and breast feeding moms, as well as for everyone else. Some health insurance plans cover lice treatment and FSAs and HSAs are accepted. With LiceDoctors, you can say goodbye to head lice and, hopefully, one day soon, we can all say good bye to head lice stigma.