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How Do You Get Lice? Most Common Places and Risk Factors

How Do You Get Lice? Most Common Places and Risk Factors
Created on 
April 15, 2017
Updated on 
June 20, 2023

The word lice is high on the list of words that parents do not want to hear. Anyone can get lice. But how do people get head lice most often?

People need to know where they are most likely to contract lice, so they can take preventative measures or seek early lice treatment.

In this article, we'll share some of the most common places where head lice spread, along with some helpful advice on how to avoid getting it in public places

How Do You Get Lice in the First Place?

Head lice are transmitted via physical contact with one or two live adult female lice, most often by head-to-head contact. Kids give hugs, friends wrestle on the playground, and children sit close to other children watching tv or playing games. These activities are usually harmless, unless one of these children has head lice, even if they don't have symptoms.

Today's lice are mostly resistant to common over-the-counter treatments, and this kind of treatment never worked on the eggs. Because over-the-counter treatments aren't working to get rid of them anymore, there are more opportunities than ever to spread this itchy problem. Since treatments are challenging, avoiding exposure in the first place is ideal.

How Easy Is It to Get Lice?

Head lice are highly contagious, even before symptoms develop or nits are visible. They have an easy time crawling from one child's head to another during close contact.

It's even possible to catch head lice by sharing items like hats, combs, clothing, towels, and hairbrushes. This, however, doesn't happen as often as spreading via close contact.

The transmission will usually occur between children (because they have more opportunities to touch heads), who then share the bugs with their family members during hugs. By the time you see symptoms, everyone in the household may need treatment.

Nits and nymphs are not contagious, as the nymphs don't move much and nits (lice eggs) are glued in (but you still need to treat them as the nits will hatch).

Where Do You Get Lice from?

While most commonly transmitted by direct head-to-head contact, someone can contract lice from inanimate objects (like hats or brushes) or an environment that a louse is temporarily occupying.

Yet it's a misconception that head lice live in environments and that an infestation is just waiting in a theater seat or hotel bed for their next victim. Head lice die within a day or two of falling off of the human host, so lice spreading through environments like schools, the playground, or daycare is an extremely limited risk.

Let's debunk some myths about the most common places to get lice for your safety and peace of mind.

Can You Get Lice from the Beach?

how can you get lice

You may have heard you can get sand lice at the beach. While true, this term refers to tiny jellyfish larvae getting trapped in your swimsuit and stinging you, not an insect that infests you.

But in terms of head lice, can you get lice at the beach? If you touch the hair of someone who has head lice at the beach, then it is possible to catch head lice.

The same answer applies if you are wondering if can you get lice from the ocean or can you get lice from outside. It’s all about whether you came in contact with an infected person. Some people find sand in their hair and mistake the grains for nits. Pull out what you see and if it blends into a white background, it is not a nit, and you do not need lice treatment.

Can You Get Lice from Sitting Next to Someone?

Can you get lice by sitting next to someone for just a few minutes? It is unlikely but possible. Lice do not like to leave their host's scalp, so unless you come into direct contact with an infested person’s hair, chances are slim. The longer you are next to an infested person, the greater the chances. Keep in mind that lice can not fly or jump from one child to another.

Can You Get Lice from Movie Theater Seats?

Can You Get Lice From Movie Theater Seats

Lice can only live for about a day of their host. But if a person were to sit in a movie theatre seat or bus, train, subway, or plane seat that was inhabited by a person with lice shortly before the second person sat there, a louse may be on that seat.

This answer is the same when considering whether can you get lice from a chair or any furniture. It all depends on who sat there last and when, or if the chair is close to another person's head. If lice are in the house and not in the hair, they will die and you do not need a lice removal service.

Can You Get Lice from Animals?

Lice are species-specific; the types of lice that affect people cannot survive by feeding on nor will they reproduce on animals. Since we sometimes share our homes with dogs, cats, goats, and birds, it's important to know that each of these species has its type of lice that may require specialized treatment. But these treatments would be different from treatments designed for humans, and you should never treat your pet with lice removal products designed for humans.

So how does someone get lice from an animal? A person living near an infested pet may find animal lice on their body or personal items, but this will not lead to an active infestation on the person. Treatment of the pet should eliminate the problem.

Can You Get Lice from Hugging Someone?

how do people get head lice

Hugging is a common method of transmission. When people hug, their heads touch, providing the easiest transportation for head lice to travel from one person to another, since they don't fly or jump.

Many parents contract a case from their infested child during hugs. If your child is itchy on the scalp and you see symptoms like a rash on the skin of the scalp or nits near the scalp, and your child's doctor suspects an infestation, have the doctors or school nurse examine you and their siblings while you're there.

Can You Get Lice from Sitting in a Car?

Adult lice rarely fall off a child onto a car seat. Even if they did, how long can lice live on car seats? Remember the rule for inanimate objects: if it's been 1- 2 days since it touched a person, it's free of live lice.

Even better, head lice are temperature sensitive. Since the temperature inside a car can get very hot or cold compared to the inside of a school or home, head lice die even faster in these extreme temperatures.

Can You Get Lice from Sleeping in the Same Bed?

Can You Get Lice From Sleeping In The Same Bed

When someone sleeps close to another person with lice, lice will likely crawl from one scalp to another scalp overnight. If your itchy child sleeps in your bed, it's common that you'd need lice treatment too, even if you have no symptoms. Child sleep-away camps are a prime venue for transmission, as campers pass time hanging out on each other’s beds in the bunk.

Can You Get Lice from Not Washing Your Hair?

Lice is often associated with poor hygiene, and indeed the first thing we think to do when we notice head-scratching is wash our child's hair. But do you get lice from being dirty? This is where you need to know the difference between head lice and body lice. While body lice thrive in unclean environments, head lice survive easier in clean hair than dirty hair. Saturating the hair with olive oil can kill lice if done correctly.

Can You Get Lice from a Pool?

how does someone get lice

If head lice are washed off the hair into the swimming pool, they generally won't survive long enough to affect other swimmers. You don't need to treat your pool after an infested child swims there. While underwater, lice hold their breath and go dormant. Only a very lucky louse might find another human scalp before drowning.

But this is uncommon. When head lice in human hair are submerged, their claws hold tight to the hair. So when you wonder can you get lice from a pool, you should be concerned with sharing towels after swimming. Keep in mind that chlorine will not kill lice so if your child has a case, swimming is not the answer to lice elimination; you will need a professional lice treatment service.

Can You Get Lice from a Hat?

where do you get lice from

While uncommon, it is possible to spread head lice by sharing personal items that touch the hair, including clothing, hair ties, combs, brushes, and hats. This mainly applies to hats worn or tried on by different people daily.

But because hats can't provide a louse with a blood meal to survive, if these objects haven't touched a person's head in over two days, they are safe. Here's more info if you'd like to know how to disinfect hats from lice more quickly for extra prevention.

10 Tips on How to Avoid Getting Lice in Public Places

While head lice are not commonly contracted from any things other than another person, there are some environments where people's hair may brush against inanimate objects more frequently. Where do you get head lice from other people using the environment?

1. Be Careful When Choosing Hotels or Temporary Home Rentals.

Hotels are notorious for spreading bed bugs. But how can someone get lice from a hotel? The time between check-out and check-in is only a few hours; not long enough for head lice to die. Changing the towels and bed linens and vacuuming is usually effective, but watch out for an upholstered headboard, upholstered chairs, and children playing on the carpeted floor.

2. Prioritize Cleaning Gym Equipment Before Use.

how easy is it to get lice

Because gymgoers are constantly moving from one machine to another, there's a possibility of encountering recently deposited live lice (albeit unlikely). If your hair is going to touch a piece of exercise equipment, use the provided spray and a paper towel to wipe it down before and after using it.

But also be wary of leaving your combs, brushes, or towels in the locker room next to other people's items.

3. Maintain a Safe Distance from Other Passengers When Using Public Transportation.

How do you catch head lice from a bus, train, or subway? Public transportation is most risky when crowded since this magnifies the chances of brushing your hair against someone with lice.

To prevent lice, keep your hair up in tight hair ties so it doesn't brush against other passengers, and try not to lean your hair against upholstered seats.

4. Be Wary of Cloth Seats at Movie Theaters.

You'll often find yourself sitting in close quarters with a stranger at the theater. While head lice can't fly or jump, cloth seats provide an opportunity for an adult louse to crawl from the person next to you across the seat and onto your hair. Keeping your hair up and using hair products are pretty effective to prevent this.

5. Consider the Risks of Trying on Clothes at Stores.

how do you catch head lice

At about the size of a sesame seed, you won't notice an adult louse on a pullover top. Be quick when trying on tops and hats, and wear products like gel or hairspray. When buying clothing you suspect others have recently tried on, prevent infestation by washing on hot or (if the instructions advise against heat) placing it in the freezer overnight.

6. Realize That Co-work Spaces or Shared Desk Chairs May Harbor Lice.

The presence of adult lice on office chairs is not probable, but just in case, don't lean against an upholstered headrest that is used by others frequently. Work can be distracting, and you might get uncomfortable and lean against a chair accidentally. Wear your hairdo up and coated in products, or run a lint roller over the upholstery for prevention. Again, keep in mind that the chance of lice being transmitted this way is remote.

7. Be Mindful When Trying Out Furniture.

Lying down to test a mattress at a furniture store feels natural. But keep in mind other humans have potentially done the same recently, one of whom may have had symptoms of head lice. Many companies will allow you to try a brand new mattress in your home for a certain amount of time instead, which is a safer option.

8. Ensure Your Stylist Cleans Their Tools Before Serving Each Customer.

where do you get lice

Hairstylists are obligated to deny service to anyone with lice and nits, so how can you get lice at the salon? Remember that symptoms like head scratching due to an itchy scalp from allergic reactions don't occur for weeks, and lice eggs may not be noticeable without bright light and a magnifying glass. Your stylist must clean their combs, brushes, and other tools between clients, ideally with a product like a bar aside.

9. Be Aware That Your Pets May Carry Lice.

Can pets get lice from humans? Head lice require a human host for feeding and reproducing; pets won't catch them any more than stuffed animals would. But one of these annoying insects could fall off a child's hair while she's hugging your dog, who then transports it to you with the next hug (again not too likely). Comb your pets before bed, and tell children to pet them with their hands only.

10. Reconsider Sharing Lockers to Avoid Potential Risks.

Your child may share a locker, especially in pre-schools or elementary school. The presence of the clothing of another child may rarely spread head lice. Elementary school children could place coats on the back of their chairs instead.

If you encounter resistance from your child to this suggestion, understand that the stress of feeling uncomfortable or even being bullied because of odd behavior might be more significant than the very tiny risk of getting infested from clothes touching.

Contact LiceDoctors to Get Professional Treatment for Head Lice

Since lice have no wings and can't jump, a situation where you come into contact with someone's hair is risky. 95% of transmission is by direct head-to-head contact. Using products like gel or lice-repellent spray with mint helps to ward off an infestation. Also putting long hair up in a bun makes it less accessible.

Getting lice is more stressful now that these parasites are resistant to over-the-counter treatment. No matter where you may have gotten it from, call LiceDoctors at 800-224-2537 and book an appointment for guaranteed effective lice removal in your own home in just one visit.



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