There’s nothing that will get you jumping at every itch on your scalp quite like being told that someone you know has a case of head lice. These pernicious little parasites – scientifically called Pediculus humanus capitis – are the bane of daycares and schools, and quickly spread whenever people share close quarters. For parents, it’s especially difficult being told that your child has head lice. But before you go shaving your kid’s head or slathering them in peanut butter, there are a few things you should know about head lice.
1. Having Head Lice Isn’t a Sign of Poor Hygiene
Virtually anyone can catch lice, no matter how often they wash their hair. Lice don’t care about hair except as something to hold on to. Their primary concern is with the delicious blood that they know is under your skin. Having lice doesn’t mean that things are dirty, it just means that your kids are playing with other kids.
2. You Can’t Catch Head Lice From Your Pets
There are roughly 532 different species of lice and each one has evolved to only feed on a few species. Fortunately, the type of lice that find humans delicious don’t feel the same way about your cat or dog. So remember that it’s okay for you to let Tabby or Fido play with your kids when there’s a lice infestation going around. Lice aren’t like fleas.
3. You Don’t Need to Wash and Dry Everything
Lice can only survive for about 24 hours away from a human host. That means that as long as you’re working on removal of the lice, you don’t have to strip and clean everything. This means no more bagging up toys or stuffed animals for weeks at a time.
4. The Best Weapon Against Head Lice in Your Home is a Good Vacuum Cleaner
Rather than stick clothing in the dryer on super high heat, just get a good vacuum cleaner. Lice will hang on for dear life to hair that’s fallen out and will walk to a new host if possible. As long as you vacuum bedding, stuffed animals, and other places where hair might be, you can control cross-contamination. Don’t forget your car’s headrests and seats either.
5. The Best Way to Beat Lice is a Good Comb
Chemical shampoos and treatments seem like they’re the best way to treat an outbreak. We’re conditioned to think of pesticides as the way to kill bugs. However, pesticides aren’t 100 percent effective as lice have started evolving so they aren’t as vulnerable to these chemicals.
You also don’t have to shave your head to get rid of them, although that will definitely work. Instead, get a good lice comb and work in sections. The comb will allow you to remove the nits before they become egg-laying adults. Using a good lice comb twice a day while vacuuming up any stray hairs will make short work of an infestation.
6. Do Natural Remedies to Kill Lice Really Work?
There are several remedies that people use that can be effective because lice are basically insects. The old peanut butter or mayonnaise and bag remedy work because you’re effectively smothering any lice and preventing them from moving or feeding.
The drawback to this is that lice can live for up to a full day without food and up to six hours without air. So you need to keep the mayo or peanut butter in the hair overnight. The plastic bag is just so that you don’t make a mess when you toss and turn. Additionally, you’re not going to kill the eggs that haven’t hatched. So unless you kill the eggs, you’ll have to deal with a new outbreak as soon as they do.
Another natural remedy that works well is diatomaceous earth. This is a dust that’s made from the fossils of microscopic plants called diatoms. At a microscopic level, DE is extremely sharp. The earth essentially works like shards of glass, puncturing the lice and causing them to dry out.
DE is nontoxic to humans, however, and is often used as an additive to grain to kill insects that try to feed on it. It will make short work of a lice infestation but you will need to reapply it every few days to completely eradicate the outbreak.
LowestMed’s Health Information Center is meant for educational purposes and is not intended for medical advice. If you would like to recommend any story ideas, feel free to contact us.