Myth Busters: Lice Edition

In a world where we have more research information then ever before, it amazes me that certain myths still prevail about head lice. You may have even heard some of them.

First, there are the old myths which most people now recognize as untrue:

Myth 1: Lice can jump or fly.
Nope. They are not built for it. They also cannot climb up your leg if they have fallen on the floor. On the hair, watch out - they have a need for speed and can move quickly. Off of the scalp, they can barely crawl.

Myth #2: Lice are microscopic. Not true. Lice do not spread like viruses. Lice can be seen with the naked eye. If you can see the period at the end of this sentence, you can see a newly hatched louse or a nit (egg). Adult lice can grow to be the size of a large sesame seed. Nymphs (immature lice) can be as small as a speck of pepper (at this stage, they will be red.) So, lice and nits are not microscopic, but they can still be hard to see and easy to miss. When on the hunt for head lice, ensure that you have good light and patience.

Myth #3: People can get head lice from, or give it to, their pets.
No, pediculosis capitis is a human parasite. Dogs and cats have their own species-specific lice.

Myth #4: People get head lice due to poor hygiene.
Body lice, yes. Head lice, no. The next myth that circulates after this one is that lice actually prefer clean hair, but really, lice just like a warm human scalp. Clean or dirty, it doesn't matter.

And now some other myths that you might not be so familiar with:

Myth #5: You need to treat your head lice with lice "shampoos" or treatments.
When I tell people that I deal with head lice without using any specialized lice treatments, they sometimes look at me as if I have a third eye. Not only do you not need special lice treatments to deal with this problem, studies are showing that many of these treatments, especially those with permethrin shampoos, are ineffective as lice are adapting to these pesticides. It is my opinion that the use of these shampoos is actually increasing the problem as in trusting these treatments, we are not actually doing what we need to do to get rid of the head lice and the problem just grows and grows.

Myth #6: You need to do extensive cleaning, wash bedding, and put away stuffed animals to keep from being re-infested with head lice.
Extra house cleaning and so-called protective measures do nothing in the fight against head lice. Really. When I tell this to parents, most are in shock and half are in disbelief. Usually because they just took three days off work to clean their house from top to bottom and are exhausted. But the research is clear - head lice are spread by head to head contact. You don't get head lice from the love seat. They only thrive on the scalp. All energy should be spent on removing lice from the head.

Myth #7: All medical professionals know best.
Not all. Some know nothing about head lice. I've seen too many people misdiagnosed with head lice when they didn't have it or dry scalp when they did. I trust community health nurses that actually deal with lice removal on a regular basis over doctors who only know what they have read in books. I trust medical professionals who do research in the are of head lice over school nurses that hand out pamphlets that say "You must use a permethrin based shampoo." I am not a medical professional and neither are any others in the lice removal business. We are more like housekeepers, doing a cleaning job that you could do for yourself but don't want to or can't do. And just as a housekeeper knows dirt, we know lice.

Myth #8: Feelings never lie.
In most circumstances, our feelings and anxieties serve a purpose. They protect us and move us to action. However, there are some of you who still let the panic and phantom itching take a hold of you at the mention of the head lice. Maybe you are dealing with head lice and continue to drain your energy in cleaning marathons or are pouring every kind of expensive lice concoction or unproven home remedy on the scalps of everyone in your household. Your feelings tell you that you need to go crazy to deal with this problem. But your feelings are wrong. I know lice give you the creeps but you don't have to go nuts, no matter what your gut says.

Get information and let your head lead you on this one.

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