“Mommy, a bug crawled out of my hair,” my then ten-year-old daughter said.
I took a peek at her hair and saw nothing. Probably a fruit fly, I thought. After all, no one in our family had ever had lice.
Then I saw an itty-bitty bug crawl out of her hairline onto her forehead.
Yikes! It was lice. Or, a louse to be exact. And so, despite my thinking that it couldn’t happen to our family, we began our journey with head lice.
Our family wasn’t alone, either. Between 6 and 12 million children ages 3-12 years get lice each year in the U.S. according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Here’s what I wish I had known about lice before my daughter got lice. Knowing these 10 facts would have saved me a lot of panic and stress in the days that followed. My hope is that these facts will help you and your family if and when lice visits your household.
1. A louse is one bug, lice are multiple bugs, and nits are the eggs. Delousing is the process of removing lice from a person or objects.
2. Transmission only happens via head-to-head contact. Lice don’t jump, so you won’t get lice just because someone in your family has it. My daughter likely got lice from an affected friend when they put their heads together on the bus to watch a video on a phone.
3. Having lice does not mean your child is dirty. The lice do not care whether someone has squeaky-clean or dirty hair. They hang on any hair shaft and feed on tiny bits of human blood. (Yes, that’s gross.)
4. Your pets won’t get lice from your affected child. That’s because lice are species-specific. In other words, human lice need human blood, so your non-human cat or dog is an unsuitable host.
5. Lice don’t spread disease or present any physical danger.
6. Head lice can live on a human host for around 30 days. Once they are off the host, they will not survive longer than 24 hours.
7. Special shampoo will kill the lice immediately. However, the lice have left their nits or eggs on the hair shafts and these can hatch into lice. You must pick the nits off, usually every 2-3 days for a couple weeks. Nit-picking is tedious, but necessary.
8. The better the nit-picking comb you use, the easier nit-picking will go. The first time I picked nits out of my daughter’s thick, shoulder-length hair, it took me 90 minutes. That was using the tiny comb that came with the box of lice shampoo. I went back to the pharmacy and sprung for the deluxe nit-picking comb. It was wider, with thicker prongs placed closer together, and made working through her hair faster and easier.
9. A lice boutique, popping up in more and more neighborhoods, might be worth the cost for delousing. The lice boutique in my town offers a non-toxic treatment and will pick all nits out of a child’s hair for $180. I was deterred by the high cost, but then I found out how time and labor intensive nit-picking can be. Should the little buggers ever visit again, I will weigh the pros and cons of using such a service.
10. There is no consensus on how to delouse your home. I washed my daughter’s clothes and bedding in hot water. But various Internet sources told me to dry them 20, 30 and even 45 minutes. So which one was correct?
Likewise, I vacuumed everything to pick up any stray lice or hair that may have fallen off my daughter’s head with nits attached. Yet some websites say such extreme cleaning is unnecessary. I recommend consulting with your pediatrician for professional advice.
In the end, having lice is not the end of the world and can happen to anyone. Thankfully, it is more annoying than harmful. Proper treatment and a good attitude will have you and your child happy and free of lice soon enough.