Head Lice Myths and Solutions
Surprise! Winter months give kids the opportunity to share hats, and hats give kids the opportunity to share combs and brushes for hat hair. But all that sharing may result in an unwanted occupant – lice!
According to Jessie Foley, director of clinics with Lice Clinics of America in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Northwest Arkansas, the most common way for people to contract lice is head-to-head contact.
“It only takes three seconds for lice to climb the hair shaft and go to their food source,” Foley said. Any time kids are in close contact with one another, lice are possible.
Here are some myths about lice, and some solutions for battling them if your kid comes home with a scalp full of uninvited guests.
Myth #1 – Head lice infestations occur because of a lack of cleanliness.
Head lice love clean hair! It is easier for them to grip the base of the hair shaft so they can lay their eggs. Lice feed off a blood protein, which they obtain from biting the scalp, their food source.
Myth #2 – Head lice are contracted from pets.
The Center for Disease Control reports, head lice infestation, or pediculosis, is spread most commonly by close person-to-person contact. While head lice can be perceived as contagious, head lice are really human parasites. The CDC uses language like infestation rather than infection. Dogs, cats, and other pets do not play a role in the transmission of human lice. So don’t blame the dog or cat for your child’s lice.
Myth #3 – Lice hop or fly from one infected person to the other.
Head lice multiply easily if there is close proximity to an affected person, or the brush, combs or hats of affected persons are shared. Head lice are spread most commonly from head-to-head contact. Head lice do not hop or fly. Lice have no hind legs to hop and no wings to fly. Head lice do crawl, quite rapidly at times, and blend into the hair shaft very well.
“Hugs and selfies are a big way to get lice,” Foley said. “This year [the clinic] did an entire cheerleading team. Keeping hair pulled back in a ponytail or a bun can help prevent lice from getting to the hair.”
Myth #4 – After a lice infestation you must mega-clean your house, top to bottom including steam the carpets, curtains and burn the mattresses!
Housecleaning myths for lice eradication abound! Lice are not bedbugs. They do not survive off their host’s head. Lice have approximately a 48-hour or less survival rate when they are off of their food source – the head.
Simple vacuuming, including upholstered furniture, will work to pick up bugs and eggs.
Foley also suggests putting bedding in a hot dryer, and placing hairbrushes and combs in a “breathable” plastic bag (not zip-lock) in the freezer for 48 hours to kill lice and eggs.
“The Lice Clinics of America provides head checks, treatments, preventive treatments and products at our locations,” Foley said.
Myth #5 – Head lice will go away in one-day shampooing with over-the-counter pesticides and will kill all lice and their eggs.
If you choose to go to a doctor for a prescription shampoo or whether you choose one or more of the numerous green products, consistent comb-outs with a lice comb is required after the shampooing to remove all lice and eggs and follow-up comb-outs will be required. Even then, it may not kill all the lice and eggs.
Today’s lice are resistant to over-the-counter pesticides. Avoid using them.
If using prescription shampoo, follow directions for the product. The initial comb-out may take up to two hours. Finish one small section of hair at a time and move to the next section.
When using this method, you will need to follow up with comb-outs either every day for seven days after shampooing, or if the initial comb-out was thorough, another one may not be needed until the seventh day. Either way, follow-up is vital.
The current “super lice” are often resistant to this treatment, regardless of follow up.
“Super lice are pesticide resistant,” Foley says. “Over-the-counter meds kill only about 25 percent of bugs. Prescriptions kill about 50 percent of bugs, but not the eggs.”
The AirAllé controlled heat technique that Lice Clinics of America uses is an FDA-cleared medical device that takes approximately one hour to 90 minutes, depending on the length and thickness of a person’s hair. It is non-toxic, pesticide-free, and is 99.2 percent effective in killing lice and eggs by dehydrating them. The treatment includes using AirAllé, and a debris removal as well as a non-toxic oil application. Other family members should be checked for lice in order to guarantee effectiveness. Kids can return to school the same day they receive treatment. Foley says that if eggs are found on the hair over the next 30 days, the eggs have been dehydrated during the treatment, so they are harmless and will come off.
While it may be tempting to think you can “heat treat” your child’s lice infestation at home with a hair dryer, Foley says the unregulated heat can be dangerous, potentially causing burns to the scalp.
Lice are as common as a cold. Any time groups of people are together, the potential for sharing lice increases. For that reason Lice Clinics of America provides camp and school screenings as well as on-site treatments.
And, to protect teachers and school nurses from the “occupational hazard” of lice, the clinic offers free treatment to them with preregistration.