How Do We Get Head Lice?

In most cases head lice are transmitted from one human to another, primarily through head-to-head contact. While most references report them as most commonly found on children ranging from ages three to eleven, never research shows the largest number of cases are found in children between the ages of nine and sixteen. 

  • Head-to-head contact is the most common way to transmit head lice.

While it is possible to pick up hitchhikers (an abandoned strand of hair with a louse still attached), it is suspected that less than 2% of all active cases are actually contracted in this manner.

Lice eggs, or nits as they are commonly referred to, also are of little concern as they cannot reattach themselves to a new head of hair. Furthermore, it should be noted that majority of abandoned nits are damaged and never reach the stage of hatching, thus reducing the chances of exposure through this means. Even if they do manage to hatch, they require blood almost immediately or will starve to death.

  • A nit "louse egg" is attached to the hair shaft with a fixative glue. It is a cement-like substance will not dissolve and prevents nits from falling off the hair.   

An adult louse rarely leaves the security of a warm, generous host unless it has already identified a newer and more desirable environment to move onto. Since head lice feed every three to four hours they are unlikely to willingly leave their food supply. It´s also worth noting that lice prefer round shafts of hair because it´s easier to wrap their claw like feet around it.

  • The hair of African-Americans is generally oval, a shapeless maneuverable and thus less desirable to the louse.

Lice are also found curly hair less appealing. It´s important to remember that although the shape of certain hair shafts reduces the risk of getting head lice, it does not make the person immune. With an increased number of interracial children, hair textures are changing, resulting in more cases of head lice among select racial groups than previously experienced.

  • Lice are more commonly found on girls than boys, presumably because their mass and longer length offer more secure and attractive breeding ground.   

Additionally, girls tend to be more physically affectionate than boys, resulting in more head-to-head contact. Longer hair, often found in girls, becomes a bridge of opportunity, offering a mode of transportation from one head to another. The risk is increased if the child´s hair is loose. The smaller volume of hair on most boys allows for more sun exposure, causing the sink to have a tougher texture and thus be a less inviting feeding ground for lice. Since head lice are lazy, they tend to look for a head that requires less work to obtain their needed food supply. I can't emphasize enough that while these reasons allow for more cases of head lice to be found on the gender and among certain races than others, it's no guarantee individuals in the less likely groups will be immune from them.

  • How can we prevent lice? By checking your child's head every week, you will help prevent lice infestation in your home. Head lice will survive for only 24-48 hours once they are not on the host (head).

What Are Crabs (Pubic Lice)?

"Crabs" is the common term for lice found in the pubic hair of humans. Crabs is a parasite infection medically known as Pediculosis pubis or pubic lice. Barely the size of a pinhead, lice are organisms that live only with the help of another organism, called a host. There are thousands of types of lice, some of which have developed an attraction to humans. The official name for the organism responsible for pubic lice is Pthirus pubis. Other lice that often infect humans are Pediculus humanus capitis (head lice) and Pediculus humanus corporis (body lice). The term "crabs" seems to come from the microscopic appearance of the pubic louse. The pubic lice organisms are visible to the naked eye in affected areas. The lice are typically seen attached to hair in pubic areas, but may sometimes appear in other areas of the body where coarse hair is present (such as beard, chest, armpits, etc.).

The pubic louse is distinct morphologically (somewhat rounded with three pairs of legs on either side of the body from which it takes its descriptive name) from the head and body louse. The female lifespan is slightly shorter (three weeks), and she produces fewer eggs per day (three) than her counterparts. The eggs attach to the base of the pubic hair shaft for approximately six to eight days before hatching.

A new case study in The New England Journal of Medicine tells a torrid tale of an unnamed 65-year-old man who showed up at a dermatology clinic complaining of an itchy crotch. On examination, the man didn’t appear to have a rash or any lesions, so the doctors investigated his pubic area with a hand-held dermoscope.

The first bit of evidence they uncovered was a nit firmly implanted on a pubic hair. And then came the culprit itself—a freakishly agile, crab-shaped parasite moving from hair to hair like it was nobody’s business.

For the dermatologists, it was a classic case of pubic pediculosis—also known as “crabs.” This happens when the pubic louse, Pthirus pubis, infests a person’s hairy nether regions.

“Pubic pediculosis is usually sexually transmitted but can occur after contact with fomites [materials that are likely to carry infection] such as clothing, bedding, and towels used by an infected person,” write the researchers, who work out of Mexico City’s General Hospital. “The condition most commonly affects teenagers and young adults. This patient reported that he had had no recent sexual contact, and no other sexually transmitted infections were identified on screening.”

The doctors prescribed the oral drug ivermectin, and after two weeks the itching was gone. Which is all fine and well—but what about the psychological scars?

Three things you probably didn't know about crab lice.

Crab lice (Pthirus pubis) aren’t crabs at all—they’re parasitic insects that feed exclusively on human blood, and their bites can cause intense itching in their hosts. Often, this itching happens in the pubic area, which is why they’re also known as “pubic lice”—which, it turns out, is actually a misnomer.

  • They’re not just spread by sexual intercourse.

Although sexual relations are the most common way to pick up these particular passengers, any prolonged close physical contact can do the trick, including breastfeeding or sleeping in the same bed as an infested individual. A few reports have suggested that crab lice can tolerate being away from a human host for as long as 36 hours, which opens up the possibility that the lice could hang out on previously used towels and sheets to wait for a new host.

  • Their closest cousins live on gorillas.

Studies comparing DNA from the three species of human louse with the lice that infest other primates found that the crab louse’s closest relative is the gorilla louse. Head lice and body lice belong to a completely different genus of lice and are more closely related to the lice that live on chimpanzees. But researchers don’t think that humans picked up crabs from screwing gorillas. It’s much more likely that we got them by eating gorillas. Lice are very sensitive to body heat, and it’s possible that way back in the distant past, some gorilla lice abandoned a cooling dead host for the warm human that was butchering it.

  • They don’t just live in pubic hair.

Crab lice certainly prefer the pubes, but their short, thick legs are just as well adapted to hang on to any coarse hair on the human body. They’ve been found in armpit hair, beards and mustaches, eyelashes, and eyebrows. They’re not big fans of densely packed hair, so they’re rarely found on the scalp. But if your scalp hair is sparser than average, as in people with curly locks, they might make an exception. Take home message? If you have a head louse infection, you only need to treat your scalp. A crab louse infection means all bets are off. Treat all of your hair. All of it.


How Do I Prevent my Kids from Getting Head Lice at Camp?

Practice Prevention - Lice Away

With kids getting out of school this week and camp season fast approaching.  It is time to give consideration to head lice prevention.  The following tips will help you avoid head lice this summer and if you happen to get head lice there is help readily available.

Educate Yourself and Your Children about Lice Prevention

  • Pre-camp registration forms explain your camp’s policy on head lice. They may include some identification and treatment tips so parents can pre-screen children and treat children before putting them on the bus to camp.   Let your children know the things that they can do to avoid getting head lice and how to recognize the symptoms.  Use tools such as educational coloring books, a reputable website, pictures and educational hands outs.
  • Get a quality head lice comb so you can check the hot spots once a week.  If you check ahead, you avoid the spread.  Take a peek once a week is a great preventative measure that parents can take.  Don’t be fooled by knock off and copy cat combs with short tines, plastic or poor tolerances.  You can expect to pay $15 to $20 for a quality lice comb, but these will last you a lifetime and can be sanitized between uses for multiple family members.  Finally a quality lice comb has the proper tolerances with long tines that go through the thickest of hair and do not break or tear the hair.

  • Keeping hair up and away from other people’s heads is the best thing that you can do to avoid getting head lice.  Sharing hats, combs, brushes, towels, and other hair items are not advised.  Also avoid sleeping on someone else’s pillow or using their blanket.  Pay special attention to sharing sport wear and head gear.  If you need to share headgear such as a helmet, use a hair bonnet under the helmet.  Keep in mind that you may also get head lice from car and bus seats and couches.   Do a visual inspection of the head rest and wipe or blow off the surface before use.  There are some cleaning products available and hair sprays that will leave a scent on the hair and these can help repel lice.

  • Ask Camp Directors about the Screening, catching a head lice infestation early is key and it helps to avoid spreading it to others in the camp and creating a severe infestation.   Ask your camp director if they provide help and if they are screening campers and staff as they arrive to camp.  Screening is the best method of keeping lice outbreaks to a minimum.  Keep in mind that all campers and staff need to be checked and that checking must be done on dry hair and within at least the first week of arriving at camp.  – Check-A-Head and avoid the spread.
  • Report, Re-check and Treat, Don’t send your child to camp with lice and report it if you do find head lice.  Others need to be told so the campers in the cabin or at home can be checked.  Follow the camp policy on head lice.  If your camp treats campers on site, ask if they use pesticide and make sure follow up is being done.  Most head lice treatments are pesticide based.  Some children are sensitive to this and may not be good candidates for its use.  Speak with the camp about the treatment options.  There are many natural treatment options available and the best tools a camp could have on hand are high quality lice combs.   Treat the camper and then re-check the others in close proximity or in the same cabin.  Keep checking for a two week period and always follow up.
  • The Environment, Head lice will die within 24 to 48 hours without a blood meal.  It is best to tell your children to keep their sleeping environment to themselves.  Sharing pillows, blankets, towels and any head gear may result in lice transmission.  There is no need to spray pesticide or to wash pillows and mattresses.  Focus on items that have had close head to item proximity such as pillow cases, sheets, hats, brushed, coats, etc.  Never spray an insecticide on bedding in cabins as the toxic residue will linger for several days and may cause some campers have breathing issues or other reactions. Remember the most important thing about head lice is to practice prevention and to catch it early so it can be treated in a timely and effective manner.  Most camps will experience head lice, but the severity of it can be reduced when everyone works together.


Head Lice Prevention – is it even possible?

When we provide lice removal services in a family’s home, the nice lice experts at Larger Than Lice are always asked “How can we prevent this from happening again?”

We wish there was an easy answer.  Or at least an answer that would guarantee a person would never have to have the head lice experience again.

But the fact is that head lice are an incredibly common infliction and no-one is immune!   Lice can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of hair type, hair color, gender or household income. Lice are common in schools, in daycares, in camps – pretty well anywhere kids (or adults) gather.

How is Head Lice Spread?

Head lice spreads by direct head-to-head contact with someone who has a case. The louse crawls along the hair and simply crawls onto another person’s head via a strand of hair.  Nits, or lice eggs cannot be spread from head-to-head.  Eggs are laid on the hair shaft with a cement-like glue which keeps them securely on the hair until the bug hatches from the egg.

Head lice spread within families, especially if parents and children lie down together, sit closely or sleep together. Lice spreads easily in schools as well because young children typically have close contact with one another, either with desks set side-by-side or during normal play and school activities. Though head lice do not hop, jump, or fly, they do crawl very quickly.

A secondary way of contracting lice is through an object which could have a live bug on it. Items like hairbrushes, hair accessories, helmets, headwear and scarves should not be shared.  It’s even possible for a louse to be left behind on a movie theatre chair or train seat headrest.  Note that this is NOT the typical way to contract lice, but it is possible.

Being in the same room or taking place in an activity in which someone has a case of head lice does NOT mean you will catch a case.  There must be direct head-to-head contact with the infected head.   Activities like sleepovers are an example of where children might have this kind of direct head-to-head contact over a period of time, exposing them to the possibility of contracting head lice.

How to Prevent Head Lice

It’s not an option to home-school every child or put them in quarantine, keeping them from everyday social activities.

But there are a few methods of prevention that might reduce the risk.

Keep long hair tied up in ponytails or even better, braids or a bun. Use tea tree oil or Buzz Off Lice Repellent Hair Spray either by adding a few drops to your regular shampoo, or by making a spritz by adding a few drops to water in a spray bottle. Tea tree oil can be very drying, so only use a few drops (as directed).

  • Take a peek once a week. Catch head lice early and it is easier to remove.
  • Educate your kids what to do to avoid getting lice and of the symptoms like scratching.
  • Don’t share hair items and visually check head rests before laying or placing your head on them.

Parents should be alert to the common sign of head lice – scratching the head.  Watch for children who are scratching or who might even wake up in the night saying that their head is itchy.  Pay attention to kids who are visiting and watch to see if they are scratching their scalps as this could indicate a case of lice.

  1. Once a Week, Take a Peek

Regular checking can identify a new case early. If a case is caught early enough, the life cycle of the louse can be interrupted. No further eggs will be laid and a case can be eradicated in just a few days. The best way to screen for head lice is to lather the hair with conditioner and thoroughly comb the hair out with a head lice removal comb (Professional Lice & Nit Terminator Comb), wiping the comb on a white paper towel after a few passes. Inspect the paper towel looking for brownish-colored eggs or actual bugs.

If checking for head lice visually, be sure to use direct sunlight or a very good table lamp. Carefully inspect the hair paying particular attention to the area when the hair shaft meets the scalp.  Look around the ear, nape of the neck and especially the crown of the head, as these are common areas for lice to be found.

When checking for head lice, look for lice eggs attached securely to the hair close to the scalp. Viable eggs will be brownish in color and cannot be flicked off the hair. They have to be removed between the fingernails, with tweezers, or with a good nit comb. Though head lice move very quickly, you may see an actual bug. Lice are the size of sesame seeds and are brownish-gray to caramel in color. They are see-through and can appear to take on the color of the hair.

Preventing Lice in the Community

It takes a community to prevent head lice. Advocating for regular lice screening in the school can go a long way to preventing a head lice outbreak. If children are regularly screened, cases might be identified and therefore treated before they have a chance to spread.

Professional screening staff from Larger Than Lice can provide screening services in schools, daycares and camps. For as little as $3 per head, each child can be checked for lice. School volunteers can also be trained to identify lice so that regular screenings can easily be scheduled.

Stop the Stigma

If you or a family member does contract head lice, don’t panic. This very common condition has nothing to do with cleanliness and it can be treated without the use of pesticides. Millions of North Americans have a head lice experience every year. A whole range of treatments is available and head lice removal services also exist in many communities nationwide.

Head Lice: Prevention & Control

Head lice are spread most commonly by direct head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact. However, much less frequently they are spread by sharing clothing or belongings onto which lice have crawled or nits attached to shed hairs may have fallen. The risk of getting infested by a louse that has fallen onto a carpet or furniture is very small. Head lice survive less than 1–2 days if they fall off a person and cannot feed; nits cannot hatch and usually die within a week if they are not kept at the same temperature as that found close to the scalp.

The following are steps that can be taken to help prevent and control the spread of head lice:

  • Avoid head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact during play and other activities at home, school, and elsewhere (sports activities, playground, slumber parties, camp).
  • Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons, or barrettes.
  • Do not share combs, brushes, or towels. Disinfest combs and brushes used by an infested person by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5–10 minutes.
  • Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets, or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with an infested person.
  • Machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens, and other items that an infested person wore or used during the 2 days before treatment using the hot water (130°F) laundry cycle and the high heat drying cycle. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry-cleaned OR sealed in a plastic bag and stored for 2 weeks.
  • Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the infested person sat or lay. However, spending much time and money on housecleaning activities is not necessary to avoid reinfestation by lice or nits that may have fallen off the head or crawled onto furniture or clothing.
  • Do not use fumigant sprays or fogs; they are not necessary to control head lice and can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

To help control a head lice outbreak in a community, school, or camp, children can be taught to avoid activities that may spread head lice.

Parents Are Not Aware Kids’ Classmates Have Head Lice

Winter months are known for head lice because students bring winter accessories like hats and coats to school, yet some parents say they have not heard of many head lice cases this year, which leaves them scratching their heads as to why. In an effort to keep kids from missing school and shield children with lice from embarrassment, the national guidelines for head lice policy in schools might be a little more lenient than previous years. Some schools are no longer sending home ‘lice notes’ to parents or requiring kids with head lice to stay home from school. Nurses say the notes cause unnecessary panic, while some parents complain about their kids being exposed, other parents are upset over less restrictive head lice policies that allow kids with live bugs in their hair to return to the classroom.

School policies regarding head lice are sometimes confusing. For instance, recently we have provided school lice checks in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and found nits in a child’s hair. The school notified the child’s parents that we “just found nits”. This can cause confusion for parents, because the assumption can follow that because there are “just nits”, there are no live lice. Here’s some information that might clear things up a bit. Nits (lice eggs) come in two states. There are viable (unhatched) nits, darker in color and close to the scalp. They indicate a current infestation. Then there are the empty nits (the egg shells), which are still glued further down the hair shaft and look like very tiny insect wings. These empty nits can indicate that either a current or past infestation is happening. Then there are the lice themselves. Head lice are photophobic, which means they run from the light. When doing school head lice checks one sees live lice infrequently because they are adept at running from the light. All this means that when a parent is told there are “just nits” in the hair, the problem is to discern whether they’re viable or not. And since live lice can take several minutes to hunt down in the hair, it’s not feasible to find them within the time allowed for checking for head lice in schools.

What to do? Take a gamble that nothing is going on? A thorough combing with a good lice comb will establish what kinds of nits are in the hair, viable eggs or empty shells, and if live lice are present. The rest of the family should have a combing check too, since one can have a couple of lice in the hair that haven’t yet lain nits. Head lice are rascally!

If you or your child have been exposed to lice in school, give our lice removal experts at Larger Than Lice a call or visit us at

Catholic board stands firm on lice policy despite health unit fears of student stress over exclusion

KEMPTVILLE - Catholic students found with head lice will continue to be sent home from school after a review of the separate board’s policy.

In a decision at odds with the regional health unit, the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario will maintain its longstanding policy that students with head lice will be sent home - though a return to school can occur after the first treatment.

“We regularly update all of our policies, (and the head-lice policy is) basically the same (as in previous years),” said board vice-chair Robin Reil.

The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit has a different view, however, saying exclusion policies add to the burden of stress already experienced by the child and their family. A review of evidence, according to the health unit, shows that screening children for head lice in schools and excluding children upon finding nits is ineffective in controlling the spread of head lice.

Reil said the CDSBEO policy sees students sent home for a short time.

“They go home, they get the wash done and they come back,” he said.

Todd Lalonde, the board chair, noted children with head lice that are sent home are encouraged to be back in school the next day.

“The board is there to support families,” Lalonde said. “Obviously we want the student back as soon as possible, we encourage (the child and family) to come back the next day with the issue resolved.”

Lalonde noted that the CDSBEO works “hand in hand with the two medical doctors of health” in the board’s region.

“We do take direction from the health (units),” Lalonde said. “But we also have our own policies and procedures.”

The local Catholic board stands among a declining number of school boards where students with lice would be sent home for any period of time. Most schools will now send treatment information and recommendations home with the child and reinforce preventative measures with the student body — but no longer exclude that child from school for any length of time.

The CDSBEO in its administrative procedure noted the purpose of the review was to ensure that issues and procedures related to pediculosis are dealt with in a sensitive and knowledgeable manner, that it recognizes head lice is not a disease or health issue, but is defined as a social nuisance which needs to be managed in the best interest of students through the parents, students, staff and the school community.

The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit has said it will no longer participate in the training of volunteers or development of policies related to the exclusion of children from schools with possible head lice infestations.