Health Literacy

Where Do Head Lice Come From and How to Eliminate Them


Many people may admit to discovering lice in their lives only when their children have a severe infestation. Some may not even know if they picked them up at school or from neighbors. The common question is, how did lice infest our family?

Many might think that pets or schools are to blame, but is this really the case?

Where do head lice come from?

Let’s first establish that lice do not come from animals or pets. They are transmitted from human to human. Now that we have that clarified, let’s move on. Lice are ectoparasites, meaning they live on the surface of the host. These insects reside on the human scalp and feed on human blood. A louse spends its entire life on a human scalp.

Research has shown that head lice have been spreading among humans for thousands of years. Evidence of lice has been found in human remains dating back to ancient times, and they have not been completely eradicated.

Unfortunately, even if you manage to completely eliminate them from your home using the best lice treatments, there are thousands of other homes with lice. If you’re not careful, they may find their way back into your home.

No one can pinpoint the first appearance of lice in human history, but it has been documented to have been around for many years.

So how are lice contracted?

Lice don’t walk, jump, or fly; they only crawl. They have six legs adapted for clinging to hair rather than walking. They have a tight grip that doesn’t easily release until you thoroughly comb your hair.

Lice don’t like light; that’s why they hide near the roots of hair to avoid it completely. They simply move from head to head through physical contact—such as children sitting closely together in a classroom or a cinema, or people sleeping together. They are less commonly transmitted through shared items like combs, brushes, and towels.

The transmission rate for head lice is about 95% through physical contact. Head lice do not live on or get transmitted from sand, swimming pools, wood, furniture, etc. They cannot survive outside of a human scalp.

The reason why children are most affected is that many parents rarely check their children’s hair regularly.

So what’s the way forward?

If everyone reading this article plays their part in eliminating these troublesome insects, the infestation rate would decrease, and fewer children would carry them around.

If parents focus more on prevention rather than treatment, it would be easier to maintain a lice-free environment both at home and at school.

If parents ensure that hygiene is well-maintained in their children’s bodies, both head and body lice would be easily eliminated.

Lastly, every individual is responsible for creating a better society. The fight to eradicate these harmful insects can only be won if everyone gets involved. This is not the battle of one person alone!

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Dr. Jade Marie Tomaszewski is a pathologist-in-training at McGill University, where she also did her degree in MSc Pathology. She obtained her medical degree (MD) from the University of the Philippines, after completing a BSc in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. In her (little) spare time, she enjoys spending time with family, curling up with a book and a large mug of tea, and trying out new recipes in the kitchen. You can follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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