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8 Things You Didn't Know About Lice

Photograph by Twenty20

Last weekend, after a night of furious head-scratching, I made the discovery every parent dreads: my daughter and I both had raging cases of head lice.

This was, unfortunately, the second time in less than a year that we'd had it.

Despite being lice veterans, the discovery sent me into a tailspin of panic, adrenaline shooting through my veins. I bolted to the drugstore to get a toxic lice-killing concoction for myself, then treated my daughter with the natural treatment we already had on hand.

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But the thing that makes lice so awful is that you can never really be certain that you've eradicated them all. One tiny nit, hiding amongst over 100,000 strands of hair, can linger and hatch days later, starting the infestation all over again.

This time, I wasn't going to try and terminate the lice and nits on my own. It was time to call in a professional.

This turned out to be a good decision, because despite having doused my own scalp in the lice-slaying goo more than 24 hours earlier, the professional delouser quickly spotted a few sneaky, very much alive bugs attempting refuge on the crown of my head.


As she combed through our hair, I hurtled questions at her. After all, how often would I have the chance to interview a professional lice killer? Hopefully not often! In the hour and a half that she was in our home, I learned several surprising facts about lice:

1. Lice don't tend to like men's scalps

One theory is that they don't like testosterone. My husband has escaped both our bouts with lice; apparently, he's just too manly for them.

2. It takes both a male and female louse to reproduce

This sounds obvious, but I found the idea of bug sex on my head incredibly disturbing.

3. You don't need to clean ALL the things

Washing your bedding, hats and shirts that have been worn recently makes sense. But vacuuming like crazy and bagging up everything your child has ever touched is unnecessary. Lice only live for about 24 hours off of a human scalp, and they can't fly or jump. So unless you have a habit of repeatedly putting your head on the same spot on the carpet, you probably don't even need to vacuum.

4. Head lice and pubic lice are two separate types of bugs

If you've got the lice, you cannot give yourself or anyone else pubic lice. Head lice don't thrive on the coarse, wiry hairs of our nether regions. At least that's one bullet dodged. (Oh, there's also body lice).

5. A case of lice doesn't mean no school

Because having lice is not an actual health hazard and just a panic-inducing nuisance, most schools no longer enforce a no-lice or no-nits policy, meaning even kids with active cases can stay in school.

6. Super lice!

That toxic gunk I smeared all over my scalp that promised to kill lice? A day later, I still had live lice in my hair. Much like some infections are becoming resistant to antibiotics, lice are growing immune to the widely used over-the-counter insecticides. The most effective way to rid someone of lice is to thoroughly remove all the bugs and nits.

7. Head lice have been around as long as we have

Though annoying and itchy, head lice have actually evolved alongside humans. And with the changes in school policies regarding lice and the rise in treatment-resistant bugs, they're not likely to disappear anytime soon.

8. Professional delousing is also on the rise

For parents like me who quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of online information about how to best treat lice, having a professional show up at your house can be well worth the cost. Independent delousers, as well as franchises like Lice Happens and The Lice Squad, can be found in many areas. A good delouser will not only treat your family's lice, but teach you how to continue properly combing to avoid a reinfestation.

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While our second battle with lice has been incredibly louse-y, it's mostly just been a huge inconvenience. Now that we're armed with the facts (and a killer nitpicking comb), we know what to do if the nasty nits make a third appearance in our home.

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