Your kids have come back from school with…oh no…head lice! How did they get this? This is most of the time the first question that pops into people’s minds when confronted to this situation: how do you get head lice?

There are a lot of myths and beliefs that surround head lice, some of them are still deeply rooted. Here are some hard facts as well as some answers to common questions regarding the transmission and causes of head lice.

How do head lice spread?

Head lice are tiny insects that have 3 pairs of legs but cannot jump nor hop, they can only crawl. They have no wings so they cannot fly either. Head lice spread through direct head-to-head contact, more exactly hair-to-hair contact between two persons, one of them being already infested with lice. This is the number 1 transmission mode of head lice, and this mode by far outweighs other head lice transmission modes.

Who can we get head lice from?

As said previously, you can get head lice from another infested person. Not from pets, only from humans. When parents discover that their child has head lice, they frequently look for the “dirty child on the block”, someone to blame. They just can’t believe that these dirty insects have made their way to their home. This is a very human reaction. Almost everyone has this reaction.

The fact is that it is impossible to determine who has infested your child, because head lice do not prefer one head to another, and they are not a sign of uncleanliness, so they can really come from anyone among children’s classmates or friends.

Of course there are families that will not tackle the problem and will not treat their kids, who will end up having head lice all the time, and who will contaminate other children. This is why you will want to do your best to prevent your children from getting head lice in periods of active infestations at school. And in spite of what you can read quite often, preventing head lice is actually possible in some way.

Can you get head lice through personal belongings?

It is possible to get head lice through shared hats, hair bands, scarves, combs, brushes, or any belonging that come into contact with the hair, such as bedding and pillows. This is possible to get lice through these items, but this is not the main way head lice spread.

All other sources of head lice transmission are myths much more than facts. Actually, according to the Harvard School of Public Health,

shared helmets and headphones in schools or recreational settings may rarely and transiently harbor an occasional louse or nit […]. Shared lockers or coat hooks probably pose even less risk as sources of contamination. Any lice or nits that might detach in a swimming pool would likely be removed by the pool filter or should otherwise perish before they have a chance to contact a person.

Do girls get head lice more often than boys because of their long hair?

Well this is also a myth, and unfortunately there are still many people out there spreading the word that girls get head lice because they have long hair. Long hair does not increase your chances of getting head lice and it is not a cause of head lice transmission.

The only difficulty that long hair poses is that it is harder to find adult lice and their eggs in long hair. This is why we hear often that long hair is a paradise for head lice. This means that they have more chances to escape treatment than if they would live on a scalp of someone who has short hair.