Can Black People Get Lice?

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When a school or a day care center gets infested with head lice, the question arises: can black people get lice, too? Black people have very curly hair and brushing through it would be a very difficult task to manage for getting the lice out. So, do black people get lice and should African American kids be checked for lice?

Well, the truth is that Black people can get lice but do NOT get lice as much as White people.

According to a study conducted in 1985, only 0.3 percent of African American kids in schools get head lice, compared to 10.4 percent of white kids. This study has been done again and the results were very similar.

The fact is that black people do get lice much less than white people.

Fact is that lice have their own preferences and they seem to like the hair of white people much better than the hair of African American people. The reason for this is that head lice came to the USA with the white immigrants. White people’s hair differs from African American’s hair by its construction. It has a round shape, while African American people’s hair has an oval shape.

It does not make any difference for us, but it does for head lice. This is the key in answering the question: can black people get lice?

Head lice cannot jump or fly, they can only crawl. And they use their six legs with claws on each of them for this very purpose.  And guess what? These claws are fitted to cling to round shape hair and head lice have certain difficulties clinging to and crawling in oval shaped hair.

In Africa, where there is no much choice for head lice, they have adjusted to crawling in people’s hair. However, in the USA or other Western countries, where there is a wider choice of hair of all shapes available, head lice prefer living on white people.

Now, statistics support this hypothesis. As said previously, according to a study conducted in 1985, only 0.3 percent of African American kids in schools get head lice, compared to 10.4 percent of white kids. Yes, there are some occurrences of head lice infestations in African American kids to deal with, but they are very rare.

Another reason for African American kids to get head lice rarely is the way their moms treat their hair when head lice infection spreads in the school.

Most boys get their hair shaved off as short as it can be done. This way head lice do not get much of a home.

Girls get their hair straightened with iron hot hair strengtheners. Head lice cannot survive heat, so they perish in the process.

So, can African Americans get lice? Yes, they can, but very rarely. Head lice do not get spread widely through the African American population. Should African American kids be checked for head lice in school? Probably, they should. There is still a little chance of getting infested with head lice and timely diagnosis and treatment are needed to get rid of them.

Head lice take only a few weeks to reproduce on the head and one child can infest the entire family with lice. This is why lice treatment should be prompt and effective. And regular checking up is the easiest way to detect head lice.

Head lice infestation is a health and social problem for white people and it can become a problem for African Americans, too, if not detected and treated timely and properly.

So, even though there are little chances of African American kids catching lice, they should not be neglected and the usual precautions and lice prevention measures have to be taken.

Current Problems in Dermatology, Volume 11, No 3; May/June 1999; p. 86-87
University of Nebraska-Lincoln –
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

T D November 28, 2012

Best article I’ve read on the Internet on the subject. It has research base statistics that makes sense and explains ethnic and cultural differences in various hair types.

jojo December 31, 2012

Great information and answered my question within the first couple of sentences. Great Article! !!

Katina January 13, 2013

I remember when I was in the 5th grade and the nurse was visiting the classrooms to check for head lice. When the nurse came to me she had told me that she didn’t need to check my hair because I couldn’t get lice and went on to the rest of my classmates. At the time I had not understood why because I had only been 10 but this provides a great scientific explanation on the subject. Thank you! :)

Lee October 18, 2013

Was just told that there was an issue at my daughters school. Cleared up a lot of my questions. Thanks a bunch

Mel January 12, 2014

I’ve always known this to be true and as an African American never got lice when it was going around at school–but right now I’m currently treating my two kids for lice, so the science isn’t exactly air right. My son indeed has very straight hair similar to white people, so I wasn’t very surprised when the school detected lice in his hair. But my other kid has coarse, thick hair. The school didn’t even bother to check hers and I also wasn’t expecting to find any in there. But she had a more serious infestation than he did and it has been a complete nightmare trying to comb her hair with a nit comb. I am going to try the heat method today.

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