Why don't African-American/Canadian children get head lice?

It's true. It is extremely uncommon for African-American children to get head lice. What makes this strange is that Black African children get head lice. What's the difference?

This 2001 article from the University of California explains the reason behind this. North American head lice prefer hair that is round in cross-section - like the hair of Caucasian and Asians. But the hair of African-American's is ovoid (oval or egg-shaped) in cross-section. So they don't like it that much.

The hair of the Black African is also ovoid. But the head lice in Africa have adapted to this shape of hair. Because this is what head lice do. They adapt. In other words, given some time, I'm sure North American head lice will be equal opportunitiy parasites.


Help! I just found out we have head lice!

So you just received the unfortunate news. Maybe from you child's teacher or a friend. Maybe you discovered it yourself. What do you do?
First, take a breath and repeat after me, "It's not life or death. It's just head lice." Remind yourself that head lice are not a health issue. Just because they are icky and itchy, that doesn't mean they are a serious threat. Learn about what head lice are and are not.

Second, take another breath and say, "I can deal with this." Because you can. Think of all the other bigger problems you have dealt with in your life. This is an inconvenience but you will be able to handle this.

Third, forget a lot about what you heard about getting rid of head lice. Don't do ANY extra laundry or house cleaning - I know that most of the available information tells you that you need to bag stuffed toys and wash everything in hot water, but it is simply a waste of your time. In dealing with head lice, most people become burned out - not because of the bugs or the eggs, but because of the cleaning. Just don't do it. (Reverse NIKE psychology.)

Speaking of time wasters (and money wasters), don't put all your trust that chemical head lice treatments or "shampoos" will completely treat your head lice or reduce the time you need to spend combing. All of my business comes from people who first used a treatment (mostly the permethrin based "shampoos" like Nix and R&C). Study after study is showing that in developed nations, our lice have adapted to these pesticides. So, save your money and save your time. Head lice can be dealt with without these treatments.

Fourth, get some inexpensive tools. A great lice comb, a blow dryer, a cheap head lamp, and some cheap hair conditioner are some wonderful tools that you can use again and again with great success.

Fifth, get to work. Read this post about how to remove head lice. Again, lice only thrive on the head so this is the only area you want to spend time on. And don't feel stuck doing all the nit picking in the bathroom - pick a comfortable location. (Look where I nit pick my own children.)
Sixth, check everyone else in the household. They may not have it, but you should check to find out.
Seventh, get some rest. Have some tea or other comforting drink. Take care of yourself. This is going to be a part of your life for a while. Get informed by reading the various articles on this blog. If you start to panic, go back to step one. You need to ease your mind. This is just an inconvenience. It's part of life. You can do this.

Don't underestimate the little guy.

This past weekend, I had the wonderful pleasure of going into a home of a family with 4 wonderful daughters (and a great mom and dad - you all know who you are!) While looking at heads, our discussions enlightened me in the ways of Manga, jokes, pop songs, and tearful movies. The mom and I also had a brief discussion about fruit flies. We have both recently experienced the "joy" of having fruit flies in the home. What a pain. With fruit flies, you don't know where they came from but you soon find that they are difficult to get rid of. They live off of the food (or food residue) in your home, but sometimes, even if you empty your garbage every night, put away or seal up all leftovers and clean all surfaces thoroughly, you can still have a fruit fly problem and they can resurface in full force once you just happen to leave a dirty dish out for a little while.

If you have had fruit flies before, you know how annoying they can be. Just like head lice. (I think everything reminds me of head lice!) You may think that you have dealt with it because you no longer see the eggs or bugs. However, there is a really good chance that you have missed


Why are head lice such a mystery?

While head lice is an age old problem, in depth research about head lice is a relatively new phenomenon with almost all the scientific research happening within the last 100 years. Unlike some areas of research that have been studied more extensively, we are still discovering new things all the time about head lice. Studies that are just a few years old may already have been disproven. Each year, more comprehensive information is uncovered about head lice transmission and treatment. Why are head lice such a mystery? Here are my thoughts...

Common Sense Myths VS. Radical Research

I love the Internet. More specifically, I love a good search engine. I love being able to find information about almost anything in a matter of seconds via the Internet. Because of these technological advances, the common man has more access to information than ever before in history. We can learn about, and sometimes even seemingly diagnose, illnesses or conditions thanks to Dr. Google.

I think the use of the Internet has really helped in the fight against head lice. Without the Internet, I wouldn’t have access to research and you wouldn’t be reading this blog. That said, I find it sad that while we have new ways to share information, most head lice “experts” are offering up old information about how to deal with head lice. There are some head lice myths that most head lice authorities debunk, such as the myth that head lice can jump (they can’t) or that lice prefer clean hair (they don’t care about your hair, they just want your blood). But there are other head lice myths that are still promoted as fact by most websites and health authorities. Before I talk about them, I ask you, dear reader, to put away your assumptions about head lice; those strongly held believes about bugs or those compulsions that cause you to want to panic. The information I want to share will challenge so much of what you have been told about head lice. Have an open mind and read the research for yourself.

Common Sense Myth #1: To get rid of head lice, you must really clean your house and launder (or store away) your clothes, pillows, stuffed toys, and bedding.

Radical Research: Head lice are not a virus that infests your home or belongings. A louse is a bug that lives on the human head. Research has shown that extensive house cleaning or laundering makes no difference in the fight against head lice.

Why I want you to know this: It breaks my heart to talk to parents (mostly mothers) who are getting only 2-3 hours of sleep every night because they are constantly vacuuming, washing the bedding, bleaching the floors, packing up the toys, etc. I know the panic that head lice can cause in a household and I understand our desire to do everything we can to get rid of it. However, all this vacuuming and laundering is just giving you a false sense of security. It isn’t actually doing anything to get rid of (or prevent) the problem of head lice and it is using up precious energy that you could be using to actually focus on the head and deal with the problem effectively.

Read more about cleaning the Floor and see point #2 below

Common Sense Myth #2: You can get head lice by sharing the hat, brush, seat, or shirt of someone who has head lice and must take great care not to share or touch these items if they have been in contact with someone who has head lice.

Radical Research: Head lice are passed by direct head to head contact. Period. There is no real basis in the common notion that lice are transferred through inanimate objects.

Why I want you to know this: I know that this information goes against what we feel is common sense. This information was even hard for me to swallow – when I first started my journey into head lice removal, I always shared the conventional wisdom that said head lice could be transferred via our hats, brushes, etc. But the research is sound and shows us that time is wasted when we focus on trying to prevent the spread of head lice by controlling our belongings. If we spent less time trying to keep our kid’s jackets from touching other kid’s jackets in school and spent more time just checking for lice on the heads of our children, we would be so much further ahead in the fight.

Read More about transmission via inanimate objects

Common Sense Myth #3: You need to kill the head lice through the use of a pesticidal lice treatment, such as a product containing permethrin, in order to stop the infestation cycle.

Radical Research: Numerous studies have shown that head lice have become resistant to pesticides and are simply not as effective as they once were.

Why I want you to know this: In Edmonton, our health authority and school boards are still telling parents that these pesticidal treatments are the #1 way to deal with the problem of head lice. And yet, ALL of my business comes from people who have first used these treatments. These treatments are costly and rarely work. By putting our faith in these treatments, we are preventing ourselves from actually dealing with the problem. Well meaning, conscientious people, people who have diligently followed the advice of health professionals, are going out in public, assuming that they have solved their head lice problem when they may still be infested and at risk of passing on these parasites. The cycle continues and the problem grows.

Read more about pesticide resistance in head lice and specifically permethrin

Common Sense Myth#4: That chemicals are our only weapon in the fight against head lice.

Radical Research: Wet combing techniques and the use of hot air have been proven effective in the detection and treatment of head lice.

Why I want you to know this: Mechanical removal of head lice is a very accessible and effective technique in the fight against head lice. A proper lice comb is inexpensive in comparison to the cost of lice "shampoos" and can be used repeatedly with each family member. A warm air treatment that has a great success rate in drying out eggs and a substantial success rate in drying out bugs can be carried out with a low-cost hand held hair dryer.

Read more here about wet combing in lice detection

Read more here about wet combing in lice removal

Read more here about the use of hot air

Common Sense Myth #5: Health and school professionals know all about head lice.

Radical Research: Health / school professionals often misdiagnose head lice and recommend unnecessary treatment or call for the removal of children from schools though active cases of head lice may not be present.

Why I want you to know this: Many school boards and childcare centres have "no-nit policies" and yet may be misdiagnosing cases of head lice. Public health and school nurses usually recommend, and some even dictate, the use of chemical treatments. However, they may not know about the most up-to-date research. You can become the expert about your child's head lice. You can detect an active case of head lice through wet combing and with regular follow up, you can deal with this problem without costly treatments. You also have a right to expect your healthy child to stay in or return to school.

Read more about misdiagnosis here.

Conclusion: For every new study that debunks our old myths, many more new web pages come up that reinforce the incorrect stereotypes of having head lice and how to treat it. In fact, there's research about that too. Click here. If you would like to chat about what you've read, leave a comment or email me. Let's stay informed.

Update: Check out these amazing pictures of head lice up close. This is great information about lice anatomy and will help you understand how they live so well on your head.