When your child comes back from school with head lice, maybe the first question you are asking yourself is this one: “How did lice come to OUR family?”
And you start thinking which of your child’s friends had head lice, and who actually had head lice in the first place. Where do lice come from? And if they only leave on humans, where do head lice come from originally?
Let’s first get the elephant out of the room: lice do not come from animals. They are transmitted ONLY between humans.
The human head louse is an ectoparasite, which means it lives on the surface of his host. It is an insect that lives on the human scalp and feeds on human blood. The entire life of lice is spent on the human scalp.
According to research, head lice have been spreading among humans for thousands of years. Evidence of lice has been found on prehistoric mummies, and lice have been described in ancient Egyptian and Greek books of medicine. They were at the time already considered as “a source of irritation and disgust”.
Today, it is a common problem in many parts of the world. In the US alone around 10 million people a year are treated for head lice. 80% of them are children aged three to twelve.
Where do lice come from when your child comes home and there is an outbreak?
Lice are not good at walking or jumping, they can only crawl. They have six legs like other insects but these are adapted for clinging on to the hair rather than walking. They avoid light and prefer to remain inside the hair close to the scalp.
Lice spread from one person to another mostly through head to head physical contact in situations such as children sitting next to each other in a classroom or in people sitting on close seats in a cinema or people sleeping together. They are far less commonly spread through shared items like towels, combs and brushes.
To sum it up, head lice have always been part of our human lives; transmission occurs from a direct, head-to-head contact in 95%+ of cases, and in maybe about 5% of cases they are transmitted through shared items that come into close contact with our hair and scalp.
And remember that lice cannot live away from their host more than 48 hours.
Head lice do NOT come from sand, wood, your swimming pool, your furniture…lice cannot live in sand, they cannot live on wood, and they cannot spread in a pool (but they can spread from head to head contact in the water) nor be transmitted by pets (human lice don’t live on pets).
They can only be passed from a human being to another human being. When your child gets lice, it’s always from a friend or family member or someone he or she may have had the head close to (for example it could be from public transportation).
Also note that there are people who live with lice, and parents who never check their kids and/or never treat them, because they don’t know or they think it’s not harmful, or for whatever reason.
That’s why there are always lice outbreaks in schools and similar environments: one single child with lice can contaminate other children, and the outbreak can be fast.