When it comes to head lice, there are a few common misconceptions that constantly make the rounds and which contribute to the confusion. As the head lice experts we can set them straight.
“Lice can jump from you to me?”
Lice do not and cannot jump from one person to another. They simply crawl, but they can crawl very quickly – 23 cm in a minute in fact. The most common way they transfer is by head to head contact. If you or your child put their head close to someone who has it the head louse can crawl across. The head louse has serious claws at the end of each leg and they lock these onto the hair shaft and climb quickly up the hair. Head lice will crawl off the head on occasion and so sometimes they can be passed by sharing things that have been used on the head such as brushes, headbands, and hats. They can also be on the pillowcase, in the bed and on the sofa or chair where someone has been sitting. It is important to know that head lice can live off the head for up to 48 hours, so if you are clearing an infestation then after combing give the person fresh bedlinen, hoover the sofa or chairs, clean the hair brush, and clean the hat or coat.
“You must never wash your hair, head lice only live in dirty hair”
For head lice it is not about clean or dirty hair. They aren’t picky about that, and neither affect their ability to thrive. It is however all about your blood which is what they are feeding on. They will live in all types of hair, clean, dirty, curly straight and everything in between.
“Can shaving your head get rid of the lice”
Since lice live very close to the scalp, shaving your hair might not even have any impact. They can thrive in hair as short as 2mm long.
“Can I give my head lice to my dog or cat or catch them from them?”
Head lice live off human blood and the composition of human blood is different from the composition of animal blood. Therefore your head lice are not interested in living on your dog or cat. Likewise animal lice will not live on a human body.
“Head lice are only caught from other children at school”
While schools are a veritable playground, you need to stay vigilant generally – they aren’t just confined to schools. A lot of infestations are caught from other family members or friends outside school; you shouldn’t ever share a hairbrush; you need to be watchful when you travel; and you should ask your hairdresser to use clean equipment on you.
“Head lice can infect the whole house and live in the sofa and bed”
Head lice cannot live off the head for more than 24-48 hours before they need a blood meal. They cannot live in inanimate objects – so they cannot live in a pillow; the mattress or the sofa. The best way to clean your home if anyone in the family has head lice is to change the sheets and pillow case; hoover the carpet or wooden floor; hoover or wipe down the sofa; wash the towels and hoover the hats and coats.
“Head lice are irritating to have but they are harmless and therefore it isn’t important to clear them.”
Head lice are covered in bacteria, and they carry impetigo which is a highly infectious disease. Also the itching at night will mean your child’s sleep will be disrupted and they will not get that important deep sleep they need. Feeling ‘lousey’ is a phrase in the English language that comes from having head lice – they will literally run you down and given low level flu like symptoms. Once an infestation is removed then a child will physically perk up; they will benefit from better sleep and they will be more confident and their performance at school will improve. Being free of head lice will also protect them from bullying and self esteem issues.