The holiday season is upon us, and that means many families will be traveling to visit loved ones all over the country. This is a great, and by great we mean terrible, opportunity to pick up a louse infestation from hotels or family and friends! We often get frantic calls from clients wanting us to come treat their home, or their sandbox, for lice. Typically they are surprised to find out that there is no chemical treatment for lice aside from the shampoo prescribed by your doctor.
Lice don’t live anywhere except on humans, thus treatments for the environment do not exist. They can’t survive on pets and will only live a day or so if they fall off a person. Lice even cement their eggs to the infested persons hair, so the eggs won’t fall off. Yes, the hair itself can come out with the egg attached and if lucky, hatch and find someone else to infest. However, eggs are impervious to insecticide and newly hatched nymphs must feed within a few hours or die. That means an insecticide application to the environment would be useless.
What Does This Mean?
Ultimately, sanitation of areas where you put your head or hair is the most important factor for eliminating lice. If you find out that you or a family member has them, your doctor will provide you with a prescription shampoo treatment along with instructions on how to treat yourself. Here are 5 tips from us on how to take care of your house to prevent reinfestation:
1. Wash and dry sheets and pillowcases. Use the hot water cycle and the high heat option on the dryer. Lice have a hard time surviving temperatures above or below 98°F as they have evolved and adapted to live only on humans. In fact, different varieties of lice have adapted to live on different types of hair. The common variety found in North America, for example, live only hair that is round in the cross section. Meaning they almost never infest people with extremely curly hair that is ovoid in the cross section. Lice found on other continents, however, could be just the opposite and have claws especially adapted for gripping ovoid hair.
2. Boil combs and brushes. You should only need to boil them for a minute or two. Think about lobsters or crawfish – they don’t last long once they hit the pot.
3. Vacuum “loafing” areas. These are areas like couches, chairs, bean bags, or even floors where people lay around. Vacuuming will suck up any hairs that may have eggs on them. Eggs won’t survive the trip through the vacuum. It’s also always safe practice to empty the vacuum canister, or dumb the bag into the outside garbage…not the kitchen garbage.
4. Freeze other items. Things such as headphones, hair clips, hats, or ponytail holders that you might not want to boil or can’t be washed, may also be frozen. Put them in the freezer for 24 hours or so and that will kill any eggs that might be on them.
5. Nuke it. For added satisfaction, you can also stick anything that you are concerned about being infested with louse eggs in the microwave and nuke it. Make sure it is microwave safe, of course. Although not scientifically proven, I’m pretty sure louse eggs would be dead in 10 to 15 seconds on the high setting.
Head lice have not been found to transmit any disease, so they are really just a nuisance, albeit a very emotional one. Follow your doctor’s instructions and these tips and you’ll be louse free quickly. Also don’t forget to check ALL beds and furniture for bed bugs when you travel. Read our blog about Bed Bugs for tips, you don’t want to bring those home either!