Head Lice FAQs

Prevention Methods

Can I get head lice from my child?

Because parents aren't likely to share hats, combs, clothing, and other items -- or to come into direct head-to-head contact -- with their children they're (thankfully!) unlikely to become infected with lice. "We don't see parents with lice very often, and only occasionally will we even see siblings with it," says Dr. Herbert. Still, if your child does become infected with lice, it's a good idea to have another adult inspect your head just to make sure they haven't taken up residence.

How can I delouse my house?

Head lice can't survive away from a human scalp for more than 48 hours or at temperatures above 120 degrees. You can use these weaknesses against them when cleaning your house and possessions. For instance, soak all hairbrushes, combs, and hair ornaments in hot (not boiling) water. Wash all stuffed animals, bed linens, towels, and recently worn clothing in hot water, and place them in the dryer on a high-heat setting. Items that can't be washed or dried in this manner can be dry-cleaned or stored in sealed plastic bags for several days. You should also thoroughly vacuum all furniture and carpeting. Although fumigating your entire home with an anti-lice pesticide spray may seem like a tempting, fast alternative to cleaning the entire house, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding the use of these sprays because they contain harsh chemicals. It's more time consuming, but a thorough house-cleaning is a much safer way to go.

What happens if the lice return?

If despite all your best efforts the lice show up again within 10 to 14 days of the first outbreak, ask your pediatrician if your child should be re-treated. In stubborn cases, doctors may prescribe a lindane-based prescription shampoo. Since lindane has been known to have side effects when used over a prolonged period of time, it's best to exhaust other methods first.

Reviewed 2/02 by Jane Forester, MD

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All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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