Now that school's back in session, so is something else: Head lice. The bugs, which are spread from direct head-to-head contact, thrive this time of year when kids are being kids, playing, having sleepovers and hanging out close to one another. But are the bothersome bugs something to panic over? We talked to the experts to learn the facts and expose the fiction about head lice, once and for all.1. Head lice spread from head-to-head contact only.
Contrary to popular belief, head lice can't be spread by sharing hats, scarves, coats, etc. "Growing up I learned that sharing helmets and headphones was a good way to catch head lice," says public health entomologist Richard Pollack, PhD. "But in my testing I've found head-to-head contact is the only way to contract them." The insects are attracted to the specific temperature and humidity of the human scalp, so if you place them elsewhere on the body they usually wander off without biting. Plus, head lice die within 24-36 hours once they're off the head, so it's unlikely a louse would survive long enough elsewhere. Photo: Shutterstock
2. Head lice are nothing new.
Recent head lice hysteria and schools' "No Nit" policies (nits are lice eggs) make it seem like there's been an explosion in head lice infestations. But according to Dr. Pollack, "they've been around since our ancestors were walking on their knuckles. There are mummies that show evidence of having had head lice, and if you look back in archeological records there are louse combs that date back thousands of years." Because of their ability to adapt and evolve, head lice have always been a part of life and always will be. Photo: Three Lions/Stringer/Getty Images
3. Head lice don't pose a significant health risk.
Sure they're itchy (thanks to the allergic reaction their saliva causes) but head lice don't pose any significant health risks in and of themselves. They haven't been shown to transmit disease or cause infection, and they aren't even a sign of being dirty-in fact, according to Wendy Beck, co-founder with Penny Good of Licebeaters, a lice treatment company, lice are actually most attracted to clean hair. But despite all that, there is still a terrible social stigma attached to having lice. So be sure not to perpetuate the panic factor if you, your child or one of their schoolmates is infested. Photo: Adam Gault/SPL/Getty Images
4. One round of treatment probably isn't enough.
It's nearly impossible to get every single head louse and nit with a single session of combing, states Beck. Because nits take about a week to 10 days to mature, you may not see them at first. And even if you get rid of all the bugs, you'll need to go back a week to 10 days later to remove the hatched eggs. Covering the whole life cycle is essential for eliminating head lice. Photo: iStockphoto
5. There are non-chemical ways to treat lice.
According to Beck, the pesticides commonly used to kill head lice are becoming more and more ineffective. "They'll kill some of the bugs, but usually not all of them," she says. "And they don't do anything at all to the nits." Her company takes a 100 percent natural approach to eliminating lice and nits: They douse the scalp in olive oil, to suffocate the lice and lubricate the hair to facilitate combing. Once they comb the lice and eggs out, they have their clients sleep with olive oil in their hair (under a shower cap if children are old enough) to kill any remaining lice and nits-lice will suffocate in approximately 5 hours. Beck likes using olive oil so she can see the lice she combs out, but any creamy conditioner will work. If your child's hair is too difficult to comb through, Dr. Pollack recommends using a FDA registered over-the-counter pediculicide and repeating the treatment 10 days afterwards to kill the remaining bugs and nits. If lice still remain he recommends contacting your physician for advice. Photo: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
6. Head lice are often misidentified.
An itchy scalp doesn't always mean lice. Beck has visited clients only to discover they actually have dandruff or eczema. Dr. Pollack, who identifies bug specimens by mail, says many times people assume ants, mosquitoes and even salt are head lice and nits. Photo: iStockphoto
7. Cleaning bedrooms and linens is unnecessary.
Because head lice cannot survive off the scalp for more than 24-36 hours, there's no need to treat linens, towels or clothing by doing anything other than throwing them in the hamper--but tossing them in the laundry machine can't hurt either. "Any louse that's in there will be dead by the next day," says Dr. Pollack, "And nits will cease to develop within a couple of days." Photo: Thinkstock
8. If your child has head lice, chances are you do too.
"Nine times out of 10, moms get it too," says Beck. "But it's usually never as bad as the child's case." When Licebeaters visits a home they always inspect the whole family, since lice are contagious. "But this should never cause parents to avoid their children," says Dr. Pollack. "I've had parents call me over the years saying they're afraid to hug their child. Just think of the message that's sending." Photo: Thinkstock
9. It could be a lot worse.
"It always surprises me when parents are so happy to find out their child has not a louse but a tick in their hair," says Dr. Pollack. "Ticks are so much more significant in terms of what types of things they can transmit! Of all of the things a child can encounter, head lice are among the least significant. A cold virus is far more burdensome to a child than is a head louse." The lesson? Don't panic, and keep head lice in perspective. Photo: Thinkstock
10. Head lice are controversial.
Many schools enforce a strict "No Nits" policy, which means children with any number of nits at all in their hair cannot attend school until they are removed. A number of experts disagree with this because they believe that a few nits are not necessarily evidence of an active infestation and that keeping kids out of school is more detrimental than it is beneficial. But whatever your option, it's important to follow your school's policy. Photo: Thinkstock
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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