It makes sense to feel a bit queasy when a kid comes home with head lice. Nobody wants to think about getting colonized by a parasite. But along with queasiness, some parents feel a great sense of shame about a child having lice. That’s because we’ve long equated contracting the beastie with being unclean. Unfortunately, shame leads to silence, and it’s in silence that rumor and fiction tend to grow, putting children at risk for treatments that can range from embarrassing to harmful.
Here’s what parents need to understand about lice in order to put the shame behind them and just get on with raising their happily social kid.
Only Dirty People Get Head Lice
The reason we associate lice with poor hygiene is likely related to the fact that our closest primate cousins groom the critters off one another for a quick snack. It’s a well-known fact that chimps don’t have showers. Also, most people have been exposed to pop culture representations of dirty prisoners, or street urchins riddled with lice. The well-worn trope acts as a symbol of their poverty, moral ineptitude and lack of grooming.
But lice don’t show up just because a kid didn’t bathe for a week. The truth is found below the surface of the popular stories and the disgust they generate. What prisoners and primates have in common is that they are often in close proximity. And lice can only spread when they have a hair to cling on to. They do not jump or fly. They are designed to climb from one hair to another.
Kids pass lice by wrestling, hugging, leaning over the same project, occasionally by sharing hats or just getting their heads in close proximity. That simply means they are being social. In fact, a kid that gets lice is a kid that has friends. Lice are a social disease, and one of the best social diseases to get at that.
Head Lice are a Major Childhood Health Concern
From the lice letters sent home from principles and the alarm that sweeps through a school community at the first sign of lice, it’s no wonder that parents often feel like they are facing an epidemic of Ebola-like proportions.
Some kids who get lice don’t even get itchy. In fact, itchiness is about the only thing lice are going to cause. They’re not passing around secondary pathogens like mosquitos and fleas do. They are simply annoying. And gross. They are pretty gross.
But no one ever died from grossness. So everybody just needs to chill.
Super Lice Will Make Treatment Impossible
There were a few recent studies that suggested some lice were becoming resistant to the chemical pesticides found in popular lice treatments. And that is true. It’s evolution for you: one random louse develops a genetic mutation that keeps them safe from an anti-lice shampoo and passes that information on. It happens. And there are lice-treatment resistant lice populations in about half of the American states. But that’s night as frightening as some might think.
The fact is that just because a louse has the genes for resistance does not mean those genes are expressed. This is genetics 101. The genotype for resistance does not always result in a louse with the phenotype (the outward characteristics) of the gene.
Basically, again, everybody just needs to chill out.
Kids Get Lice from Sharing Furniture
One a louse leaves a child’s head it has very little chance of survival. The head is the only place for it to reproduce and thrive. There’s nothing for a louse on upholstery and the will perish in 24 hours without a host.
So while a kid can get lice from sharing a couch, it’s highly unlikely. It’s like shooting a human off the planet and hoping that another habitable planet will come into the path before their oxygen runs out.
Shaving a Kid’s Head is the Best Way to Prevent Lice
While shaving a kids head can be fun, if the kid is into it, mostly a shaved head is simply a sign of fear and shame during a lice outbreak. There are far better ways to prevent a kid from getting lice without ruining their lovely locks.
Parents can add a drop natural mint, menthol or lavender oil into their kid’s shampoo, or buy a commercially available lice prevention (not treatment) shampoos. Children should also be encouraged to keep long hair tied up and contained and avoid sharing hats, pillows or combs while at school.
Using Lice Shampoos is the Best Way to Treat Lice
There’s no reason to go for the big chemical guns when a kid comes home with lice. In fact, the best way to treat lice is to remove the eggs (or nits) with a fine-toothed nit comb.
Parents should run the comb through every piece of child’s hair until it comes away free of the small white nits. This may be difficult for the most queasy parents, but it’s the most reliable form of chemical free treatment and often takes care of the problem within minutes.
Parents who want to be extra sure, and don’t mind exposing their kid to harmful chemicals, can reach for the lice treatment shampoos. But they shouldn’t buy into folk remedies or internet hacks. If the problem persists, it’s time to call a pediatrician for prescription strength treatment.