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December 3, 2013

Untangling 7 myths about head lice

(Continued)

Head lice are undeniably gross. Eckert says she faces tears and panic from parents every day. "Seeing [lice] in their kid's hair," Eckert says, "makes a normally sane person insane."

The American Association of Pediatrics suggests that kids with lice stay in school: "Because a child with an active head lice infestation likely has had the infestation for 1 month or more by the time it is discovered and poses little risk to others from the infestation," its guidelines say, "he or she should remain in class but be discouraged from close direct head contact with others."

It doesn't help that there's such confusion about how the little beasts operate. Here are a few common myths:

1. You're more likely to get lice if you're dirty.

"Head lice has nothing to do with hygiene," says Andrew Bonwit, a pediatric infectious-disease expert at Loyola University Health System outside Chicago. "It has to do with whether the person was exposed to someone with head lice." Bonwit says a louse, which is "about the length of George Washington's nose on a quarter," doesn't have discriminating tastes: It wants warmth for its eggs and a regular "blood meal." It doesn't matter if the dish is dirty or clean.

2. Your pet can carry lice.

Lice feed only on humans. Fleas and ticks are another story.

3. Lice can jump and fly.

No. They just crawl. That's why kids are so much more likely than adults to have lice: They often touch heads when interacting, whether playing or talking or sleeping together at slumber parties (which are top-notch settings for lice transmission). A few lice can quickly scuttle over hair to a new head while, say, kids press close to take photos, snuggle up to watch a movie or share a pillow. While adults can get lice from their children, they rarely are the family members to bring the bugs home. (As Bonwit points out, "In the typical office, there's probably not a whole lot of hugging going on.")

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