Lice FAQs

Head Lice FAQs

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The mere thought of these tiny critters crawling around a child’s scalp is enough to generate shudders of disgust. Judging from the drastic measures some parents take to get rid of them — from mayonnaise and vinegar to overdoses of potentially toxic chemicals — you’d think they were the worst scourge on earth.​​For a closer look, National Geographic’s Richard Ambrose and Jonny Phillips use a camera with 200x magnification to probe human hair and reveal an unwelcome inhabitant — head lice (pediculosis capitis). In the United States, head lice infestation is common among children 3 to 12 years and the adults who care for them.

Yet aside from the “ick” factor and a sometimes itchy scalp caused by an allergic reaction to their saliva, head lice cause no disease. In a clinical report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the organization noted that head lice cause “a high level of anxiety among parents of school-aged children.”Myths about head lice abound, and even pediatricians, school nurses, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still offer conflicting, outdated information about diagnosis and treatment. The good news is that head lice are manageable and can be safely treated without pesticides. In fact, pesticides no longer effectively kill lice and their eggs. Here are some other myth-busting facts:

Myth: Head lice jump from head to head.

Fact: Head lice have no hind legs and are not able to jump. Transmission takes place when lice crawl from one warm human scalp to another during direct head-to-head contact.

Myth: Itching is a sign of head lice.

Fact: Most children rarely itch when head lice are present. When feeding on human blood, the lice employ a similar approach to a mosquito, by injecting an anesthetic, an anticoagulant and saliva. After two to three months of lice exposure, some children develop an allergic skin reaction to these substances and experience itching, a rash on the back of the neck, or both.

Myth: School lice policies are uniform and effective.

Fact: School lice policies differ widely, from no policy at all to no-nit policies to requiring pesticide treatments. No-nit policies are difficult to enforce, and do not prevent the spread of lice in children. In fact, the CDC reports that both the American Association of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses advocate the discontinuation of no-nit policies.

Myth: Pesticide-based lice shampoos effectively eradicate head lice.

Fact: A 2003 study revealed that head lice have developed resistance to the most commonly used pesticide in these shampoos, rendering them ineffective. The nits also remain viable after the use of pesticide shampoos, many of which contain neurotoxins.

Myth: Non-toxic treatments, such as combing and olive oil soaks, are ineffective.

Fact: Effective head lice treatment involves the laborious removal of the lice and eggs using a nit comb. Olive oil effectively kills lice and eggs by starving them of oxygen. Unless every last lice egg is removed from the hair, the head lice colony will begin again. Combing the hair with olive oil or conditioner and a good metal nit comb is an effective, pesticide-free way to eradicate a head lice colony.

Myth: Those with head lice are dirty.

Fact: Head lice thrive in clean hair and spotless homes. This erroneous stigma comes from confusing head lice with body lice, which did thrive in squalid conditions. In today’s American homes with indoor plumbing, body lice are nonexistent. Managing lice in families and communities requires accurate information and effective tools. Debunking the stigma of head lice is an important part of the process of keeping pesticides off kids and out of the environment.

Myth: I should use Nix, Rid, or prescription products to kill lice.

Fact: Head Lice have developed resistance to the pesticides in “lice shampoos” like Nix, Rid, Splice, etc so we cannot rely on them anymore. Not only do over-the-counter and prescription-strength chemical treatments contain levels of pesticides harmful to humans, they are not effective at eradicating lice. Many families have already tried those pesticide-based products before they call me, and were horrified to have found out they did not work as advertised.

What’s the difference between lice and nits? Head lice are the actual insects. Nits, or lice eggs, are the sesame seed sized egg pods that lice lay on the hair shaft.  A single female louse lives 30 days and lays 100 nits. It takes a week for a nit to hatch.  It takes another week for the newly hatched insect to become an adult that can lay its own eggs.

Can our family dog get lice?  No, your family dog cannot get lice.  Head Lice only live on human scalps.  Head Lice are what is known as an “obligate” parasite.  An obligate parasite is specific to one host, and one environment on that host, and cannot avail itself of other hosts.  Dogs, cats and other household pets have their own obligate parasites such as fleas, ear mites, heartworm, etc.  We humans have 3 species of lice that are specific to humans. Head Lice, Body Lice and Pubic Lice.  Each species of human lice is genetically distinct from one another.  In other words head lice can not turn into body lice or pubic lice.