Do head lice mean the end of the world as you know it? It sure can feel that way. Often, when we say the words “head lice,” we see people begin to twitch. We see them reach for their head and start to scratch. Just saying the words elicits this physical response. So, what physical response do the words “head lice” preceded by “your child has…” elicit? Wide eyes, a look of dread, some shuddering, definite head scratching, and maybe even a full-blown panic attack, as if the world is coming to an end! The sometimes extreme reactions caused by talk of head lice are really all about misconceptions and bad information.
The Biology of Head Lice: They can only do what they’re designed to do…
Sure, head lice are kind of icky to think about. In a perfect world, they probably wouldn’t exist, but our world isn’t perfect, so say hello to the common head louse. We encourage you to get acquainted with them, so that if the time ever comes when you find yourself hosting a louse family reunion on your scalp, you’ll be able to remain calm and rational because you know the facts about lice. So, here are some important facts to know:
- Lice are not fleas. They are not Olympic high jumpers or long jumpers. They don’t hop. They’re not staring, wide-eyed, at everyone who walks by, planning their next attack. When lice find a host, they grab on and bed down. If they’re going to change addresses, it’s because a new host is convenient and close, like maybe sleeping next to their current host.
- Lice are not bed bugs. They do not sneak out in quiet moments, feed, and then crawl back into their hidey-holes away from their hosts, plotting their next attack. As we said before, they come aboard and get comfortable in a warm place, close to their food source–you.
- Lice are not ants. They do not travel in large armies, raiding and pillaging as they go. More than likely, you will be infiltrated by only a louse or two; the problem (and the numbers) increases quickly though, as each female louse can lay multiple eggs per day. So, if a loner (or even two) female comes aboard and lays multiple eggs per day, and her eggs hatch 7 to 10 days later…well, you’ve got quite a few more lice in just a week or so.
- Head lice are not body lice. Head lice frequently get cozy with clean people–they don’t care; whereas body lice love the dirt. Don’t bathe or wash your clothes? Body lice will love you! Head lice could care less. Go ahead and scrub up twice a day; they’ll hang on. So, don’t assume someone unlucky enough to win the affection of head lice are unhygienic. They’re not; they’re just unlucky.
- Lice are not ticks. They do not carry diseases. We highly recommend you take a look-see for lice while you’re checking your child’s head for ticks this summer, but if you find some (lice, not ticks), you need not worry about Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Lice will certainly feed on your blood, but they won’t give you any diseases in the process.
- Lice don’t like dogs. Or cats for that matter. Pets are just generally not known to either carry lice nor transmit them to their human companions, so maybe you owe Fido an apology.
Now that you know what lice aren’t and what lice can’t do, keep your eyes peeled for our next blog where we’ll explain more about what they can do, how they reproduce and their life cycle. In the fight against lice, reliable information is one of your best weapons, so stay calm and get the information you need. Stop twitching. Head lice aren’t the end of the world; they’re just a little speed bump.