Asked Questions About Head Lice
adapted from content on the websites of the National Pediculosis Association (NPA)
is lice and how does it spread?
What is the treatment for lice?
What is lice and how does it spread?
do head lice come from?
lice do not come "out of the air" or from the ground. They are
human parasites and have probably been here since the beginning of time.
Desiccated (dried up) head lice and their eggs have been found on the hair and
scalps of Egyptian mummies. Lots of folks have misconceptions about head
lice and the people who have them. Head lice can affect anyone: rich or poor,
young or old, male or female. An outbreak of head lice in your family does
not mean that you're a bad housekeeper or that you don't bathe. It does
mean loss of school for kids, loss of work time for parents, and often the
unnecessary use and misuse of potentially harmful pesticide treatments
head lice cause harm?
lice rarely (if ever) cause direct harm, and they are not known to transmit
infectious agents. Thus, they should not be considered as a medical or a
public health problem. These lice may occasionally be burdensome because
of annoyance; their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. The
greatest harm associated with head lice results from the well-intentioned but
misguided use of caustic or toxic substances to eliminate the lice.
can we do to prevent head lice?
sooner nits (louse eggs) and head lice are detected, the easier and quicker it
is to control and remove them.... because they multiply quickly. This is
the reason why the National Pediculosis Association® (NPA) recommends that
parents screen their children regularly (several
times a week) as part of routine hygiene.
is the life cycle of the head louse?
lice can survive on a human host for approximately 30 days. Head lice generally
cannot survive longer than 24 hours off the host. A female louse lays up to 3-5
eggs per day. It takes 7-10 days for the eggs to hatch and another 7-10 days for
the louse to mature and lay their own eggs.
are head lice spread?
lice can be spread whenever there is direct contact of the head or hair with an
infested individual. Lice can also be spread through the sharing of
personal articles like hats, towels, brushes, helmets, hair ties and so on.
There is also a possibility that head lice can be spread via a pillow,
head rest, or similar item. Head lice do not jump or fly and generally
cannot survive longer than 24 hours off the host.
you catch head lice from car seats, pillows or furniture?
lice do not leave a head in search of new hosts. If a louse comes off the
head and is left behind (i.e. on a pillow or a head rest) it may be possible for
the louse to infest another individual who places their head in that area.
Vacuuming is recommended for any areas or items that may be in regular contact
with those who may be infested.
head lice jump?
lice do not have hind legs to hop or jump, nor wings with which to fly.
you catch head lice in a pool, pond or lake?
with someone who has lice carries no greater risk of transmission than any other
activity, nor will the water affect the infestation. When lice are in
water they go into a state of suspended animation but remain firmly locked onto
the hair – literally hanging on for dear life. Lice or nits that might
detach in a swimming pool would likely be removed by the pool filter or
otherwise perish before contacting another person. Closing a swimming pool
because of lice is not indicated. Risks of transmission will occur, however,
with the sharing and piling of towels, storing other personal items and clothing
in close proximity, and direct head to head contact.
you catch head lice from pets or from sharing headphones or helmets?
lice cannot thrive on pets… they are human parasites. The extent to
which head lice are transmitted to others via headphones and helmets is unknown,
but considered rare. Still, risks of transmission are minimized when
children have and use their own equipment. When sharing is necessary, the
items can be cleaned between kids by wiping them with a damp paper towel.
Children can also wear a baseball cap to help shield the hair from contact with
the items. Helmets and headphones should never be sprayed! Most
importantly – and best for the entire community – all parents should
regularly screen their children for head lice and nits (at least twice weekly).
do you treat a home or school for lice?
don’t get head lice – people do. Head lice are human parasites and require
human blood to survive. Please do not use any pesticidal sprays in your home.
They are unwarranted and may pose personal and environmental hazards. Vacuuming
is the safest and best way to remove lice or fallen hairs with attached nits
from upholstered furniture, rugs, stuffed animals and cars. It is unnecessary to
bag objects that can be washed and dried (see below). Vacuum them instead. Save
your time and energy for that which benefits you the most – thorough nit
What is the treatment for lice?
my child gets head lice, what product should be used for treatment?
should be considered only when active lice or viable eggs are observed.
There are no safe pesticides, "natural" or otherwise, scientifically
proven to be 100% effective against head lice, nits or nit glue. Reliance on
head lice treatment products alone promotes repeated use of potentially harmful
chemicals and contributes to ongoing infestations, outbreaks, and resistant
strains of lice. Parents are discouraged from spending unnecessary time
and money on "concoctions" for which there is no scientific basis for
claims or evidence of efficacy and human safety. A wide variety of
"lice remedies" are vigorously marketed to consumers especially via
the Internet, and can have harmful effects. The result is more confusion for
families already deluged with conflicting and unfounded treatment
recommendations. Manual removal is the
safe alternative to, and a necessary component of, any head lice treatment
regimen. The NPA recommends a combing tool
(the LiceMeister®) to enable families to screen often, detect head lice
early, and thoroughly remove lice and nits. Removal of live lice and
nits by combing is assisted when the hair is first moistened with a hair
conditioner or salad oil (e.g., canola, corn).
lice shampoos potentially hazardous?
should be informed about the potential risks before they shampoo with any
product. This is just one of the reasons the FDA requires testing for
safety before they give their approval. Safety varies from person to
person just as the status of one's health varies. Children who have had
earlier repeated lice treatments may also be more vulnerable to side effects.
The NPA warns against the use of any chemicals designed to kill or destroy head
lice in individuals who have pre-existing illness, such as epilepsy, asthma,
brain tumors, cancer or AIDS, and for pregnant or nursing women. Those on
medication should also be aware that there can be unspecified chemical
I have to bag stuffed animals and other items?
used to suggest bagging items, such as stuffed animals, for a number of weeks to
help bring infestations under control. To our knowledge there is no evidence
that this measure is helpful in any way because head lice require human blood to
survive. What we do know is that parents and others spend invaluable
amounts of time with "bagging" at the expense of more beneficial
"hands-on" screening and nit removal. Save your physical and
emotional energies for screening and thorough lice and nit removal.
Vacuuming is a sufficient safeguard for any questionable areas or items that may
be in regular contact with those who may be infested. You can also take
bed linens and other items and put them in a hot dryer for 30 minutes.
Remember -- NEVER EVER SPRAY.
can I tell if the nits are dead or alive?
NPA does not get into "dead or alive" – the time it would take to
make the distinction is time better spent by removing ALL nits. Children,
like adults, do not want them left in their hair – dead or alive. (The
Harvard School of Public Health experts do make the distinction since dead nits
cannot cause reinfestation.)
kind of light is best for head lice screenings?
(NPA) and http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/headlice.html
(HSPH). You can also call the NPA at (781) 449-NITS and consult with your
 LiceMeister® is a metal comb developed by the NPA. Metal combs are considered more effective than plastic ones; other metal combs may also be effective.
 Current medical recommendations include complete nit/louse removal, or one use of an over-the-counter product (giving 2 doses if directed). If those fail, consult your physician regarding one use of a prescription product.