Christine Brown, nurse consultant and adviser to Primary Care Trusts in relation to policy for dealing with head lice, has compiled the Top Ten Head Lice Myths:
Myth 1: Head lice jump from one head to another
Reality: Head lice can only be passed by direct head to head contact when they walk from one head to another – they cannot jump or fly!
Myth 2: Ã‚â€œHead lice can be caught by sharing things like hairbrushes, towels or bedding
Reality: Head lice only survive on heads, dying quickly away from their heat and food source. Any lice found on hairbrushes, towels etc. will be either dead or dying and so unable to infest a new host.
Myth 3: Lice like to live in clean hair
Reality: This myth started out as Ã‚â€œlice only live in dirty hairÃ‚â€ but has changed over the years. Lice have no preference whether hair is clean or dirty as long as they can get to their dinner.
Myth 4: Pets can carry head lice
Reality: Head lice are a purely human parasite. They cannot infect cats, dogs, or other pets
Myth 5: Head lice can swim
Reality: In water, lice close down their bodily functions and cling on tight. They would die eventually but people couldn’t stay underwater for long enough for this to happen.
Myth 6: The best way to prevent your child from getting lice is to shave their head
Reality: Lice live close to the scalp and are very small which means they can live on even the shortest hair. In fact, lice will find it easier to move from one closely cropped head to another as they have less distance to travel up the hair shaft. Never shave your child’s hair as a way of dealing with head lice; it only makes the child feel ashamed and you guilty.
Myth 7: Break their leg, they can’t lay eggs
Reality: It takes a lot of force to remove a leg from a louse and more importantly, it makes no difference to the female’s ability to lay eggs. What you need to do is remove them from the head. Therefore, a better phrase would be Ã‚â€˜”off the head, as good as dead”.
Myth 8: Only children get head lice
Reality: Head lice live just as well on adult heads as on children’s, so they can be easily spread between people of all ages.
Myth 9: Ã‚â€œIf one child in a school has them, there’s going to be an epidemic!
Reality: Head lice can only be passed from direct head to head contact – which is why they usually spread between good friends and family. If a child has head lice there’s no reason for them to be kept away from school for fear of starting an epidemic. Parents should simply tell their child not to ‘bump heads’ with their friends until their treatment is over.
Myth 10: Schools still check children for head lice so parents don’t have to
Reality: There are no more ‘nit nurses’ in schools. But parents and carers really are the best people to check their family’s hair for lice – once a week is ideal and the whole family should be checked, including adults.
Parents getting tough
When questioned, three-quarters of parents said they wanted tougher penalties for those parents or
guardians who take little or no action to combat head lice.
A quarter of those polled by leading head lice treatment Hedrin would welcome the introduction of fines for parents who don’t check their child’s hair regularly. Over a third (35%) would like children with head lice to be excluded from school until they have gone, whilst 18% feel the child should be allowed to continue at school but be kept in quarantine until the head lice have been dealt with.
In addition, one in five believe that parents who don’t deal with their child’s head lice should be named and shamed by the school, whilst 8% would like to take the dramatic step of naming and shaming them in the local media.
I understand parents’ frustration and desire to apportion blame, but quarantining children, and naming and shaming parents, is not the way to go about it. That simply increases the risk of bullying, teasing, and exclusion. Education is a far better method of proactively controlling the situation.