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Common Myths About Head Lice

Myth: Lice "jump" from child to child.

Truth: Lice cannot leap. Lice are transferred by contact, either directly or through another device (such as a comb, hat, furniture and or bedding).


Myth: I should use a pesticide on every surface of my house if my child has lice.

Truth: Off of the body, lice can only survive for a day or two. Nits that hatch will die if they don't find food within hours. There is no need to clean every inch of the house. Concentrate on the hair, bedding, hats, toys, and furniture instead.


Myth: Fumigating is the way to really kill lice.

Truth: Fumigating won't be effective because all of the humans won't be present. Lice live on humans and animals. Fumigating the house will be ineffective. Fumigation also has no effect on the nits (unhatched eggs). Concentrate on the hair, bedding, hats, toys, and furniture instead.


Myth: Petroleum Jelly or Vaseline is the way to kill lice.

Truth: Using petroleum jelly may smother lice, but it will take forever to remove it. You might also find it is ineffective in destroying nits. Every year we receive desperate calls from parents asking how to remove the Vaseline from their children's hair. We still don't know.


Myth: Using Mayonnaise and a shower cap is the way to kill lice.

Truth: This is gross. It is also ineffective.


Myth: I need to shave my child's head.

Truth: Hair removal can help the problem, but it will be traumatic. You will do better to use a lice shampoo and carefully comb out the nits. Leave the shaving for when you send them off to the military as a teenager.


Myth: Lindane is the best lice treatment.

Truth:Lindane is a dangerous, prescription-only lice treatment. This drug has a checkered past. In 18 years ago consumer advocates petitioned the FDA to have it removed from the market. It is linked to reports of seizures and even death from improper use. Consumer Reports suggests throwing away a prescription for Lindane. "Besides" they say "it is not as good at killing lice as the over-the-counter products".


Myth: Gasoline or Kerosene is a good lice treatment.

Truth: Every year someone manages to kill or maim a child because they believe that gasoline or kerosene is an effective lice killer (they are not). The last case we know of was a 13 year old girl from Lorimor, Iowa. The volatile fumes will combust. These products should not be applied to the hair (or other parts of the body).


Myth:Lice are dangerous and carry disease.

Truth: Lice will cause itching and a rash, but there are few serious health risks. Mostly, it is an embarrassment issue.


Myth: Only dirty kids get lice.

Truth: Personal hygiene has little to do with it. Lice can survive 24 hours underwater and they are not killed by soap and water.


Myth: Once you kill the lice you are done.

Truth: Lice eggs (nits) will hatch after about 7-10 days. If they are not removed after you shampoo it is likely you will be reinfested shortly.


Myth: You will know right away if you have lice.

Truth: It takes your immune system 4-6 weeks to develop a sensitivity to louse saliva. Meanwhile a female louse can lay 6 to 10 nits a day. By the time you find out, several generations of lice may be in residence.
Other Interesting Facts About Lice

Interesting Fact: African Americans do not generally get lice. Their hair shafts are of a different shape which lice have trouble adhering to. In Africa however, the lice have adapted to this hair shaft and Caucasians are immune.

Interesting Fact: Over 80 percent of schools will have a lice outbreak each year.

Interesting Fact: Some mummified remains of ancient Egyptians showed evidence of lice.

Interesting Fact: 10-12 Million Americans will be infested with lice each year.

Interesting Fact: Lice are thought to becoming more resistant to pesticides. Some areas consider the problem to be an epidemic. Southern Florida seems to be among the most strongly affected.

Interesting Fact: Lice and Nits will die at temperatures over 130 degrees Fahrenheit. So washing cloths in hot water or using the dryer can effectively eliminate the problem.

Interesting Fact: The word Lousy refers to something that is infested with lice. Louse is the singular of lice. The slang use is more common such as "having lice is lousy".


References:

Parents: September 2000, "Bug Off", Pg. 83-85.

Time: September 25, 2000, "The Nit Detector", pg. 104

Consumer Reports: February 1998, "Parents Scratching Their Heads", pg. 62-3

Time: January 12, 1998, "A Lousy Nitpicking Epidemic", pg. 73-4

Good Housekeeping: July, 1999, "Send Pests Packing", pg. 150

John Hopkins Family Health Book, 2000, Harper Collins, pg. 1305-6, 861, 1106, 1305