Busting the Myths About Head Lice



The words “head lice” can stir fear in parents everywhere. Head lice are misunderstood, yet very successful, human parasites that have been around for thousands of years. They are not a public health crisis, as some would believe, and they do not cause disease.

Common myths about head lice abound, and even pediatricians, school nurses and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still offer conflicting, outdated information about the diagnosis and treatment of these parasites. The good news is that head lice are manageable and can be safely treated without pesticides. In fact, pesticides are no longer able to effectively kill lice and lice eggs, known as nits. Here are some other myth-busting facts:

Myth: Head lice jump from head to head.

Fact: Head lice have no hind legs and are not able to jump. Transmission takes place when lice crawl from one warm human scalp to another during direct head-to-head contact.

Myth: Itching is a sign of head lice.

Fact: Most people rarely itch when head lice are present. When feeding, the lice inject an anesthetic, an anticoagulant and saliva. After two to three months, some people develop an allergic skin reaction to these substances and experience itching, a rash on the back of the neck, or both.

Myth: We need to launder, vacuum and bag up stuffed animals when head lice are present.

Fact: Head lice are not found in bed linens, carpets, clothing or stuffed animals (as are body lice). Because head lice are sensitive to temperature, light and humidity, they avoid inanimate objects, preferring to move directly from one warm human host to the next.

Myth: School lice policies are uniform and effective.

Fact: School lice policies differ widely, from no policy at all to no-nit policies to requiring pesticide treatments. Nonit policies are difficult to enforce, and do not prevent the spread of lice in school-aged children. In fact, the CDC reports that both the American Association of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses advocate the discontinuation of no-nit policies.

Myth: Pesticide lice shampoos effectively eradicate head lice.

Fact: A 2003 study revealed that head lice have developed resistance to the most commonly used pesticide in these shampoos, rendering them ineffective. The nits also remain viable after the use of pesticide shampoos, many of which contain neurotoxins.

Myth: Non-toxic treatments such as olive oil and combing are ineffective.

Fact: Effective head lice treatment involves the mechanical removal of the lice and eggs using a nit comb. Olive oil effectively kills lice and eggs by starving them of oxygen. Unless every last lice egg is removed from the hair, the head lice colony will begin again. Combing the hair with olive oil or conditioner and a good metal nit comb is an effective, pesticide-free way to eradicate a head lice colony.

Myth: Those with head lice are dirty.

Fact: Head lice thrive in clean hair and spotless homes. This erroneous stigma comes from confusing head lice with body lice, which did thrive in squalid conditions. In today’s American homes with indoor plumbing, body lice are nonexistent. Managing lice in families and communities requires accurate information and effective tools. Demystifying the stigma of head lice and learning how to use a good nit comb costs very little and keeps pesticides off kids and out of the environment.

Berit Pratt, RN, BSN, MPH, is founder of NitWits Intelligent Lice Treatment, in Cambridge. For more information, call 617-816-9487 or visit LiceInfo.net.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Holistic Dentistry

Dentistry by Dr. David is metal-free, BPA-free, mercury-free and mercury-safe.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The source of a woman’s obstructive sleep apnea symptoms can be misdiagnosed because of the overlapping symptoms associated with hormone changes and depression.

Mental Health Diet

The greatest strategy to decrease inflammation and thus support optimal mental health is through consuming an anti-inflammatory diet where food is used as medicine.

Detecting Inflammation with Thermography

Thermography is a tool used to look for physiological changes in the breast and body that are compatible for cancer and disease, and this information is valuable.

Boost Metabolism

For someone looking for new options for a true metabolic boost that keeps us alive or thriving, one can turn to a number of treatments that employ the body’s innate ability to self-regulate and correct systemic imbalances.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »This Month

The Connection Film - Mind Your Body

After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, journalist and filmmaker Shannon Harvey traveled the world in search of the missing link in healthcare. This documentary is the result.

Sound Healing Concert and Workshops

Internationally renowned sound healers, Paradiso and Rasamayi, will be conducting a peaceful, acoustic concert and two workshops on September 20 and 21.

Non-toxic Flea Powder for Cats and Dogs at Johnson Compounding

Johnson Compounding and Wellness, in Waltham, now carries a non-toxic product that rids cats and dogs of fleas.

Orthotics Improve Patients' Lives

Product Spotlight: Focusing on Feet at Newton Chiropractic and Wellness
Newton Chiropractic and Wellness is now treating patients from head to toe, as Dr. Julie Burke and her staff add foot screenings, orthotics, shoethotics and sandalthotics to its list of services.

October Gathering for Boston-area Eco-Conscious People

Boston Eco will host its next event, Healthy Home, Healthy Living, from 6 to 9 p.m., October 1.

Koren Specific Technique

Therapy Spotlight
Koren Specific Technique (KST) is a revolutionary approach to the analysis and correction of nervous and energy system blockages and imbalances in the body.