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Lice, the myth unfolded

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Lice, the myth unfolded


We have all, at some point in our lives, experienced a lice infestation. Whether it be through friends, family or whether we have ourselves experienced a lice infestation, there are many questions to the lice epidemic that remain unanswered. Let us clarify some of these myths for you.

What are lice?

Lice are tiny parasitic insects that attach themselves to human hair. These insects are usually found around the back of the neck or around the ears. The superficial blood vessels and surrounding hair creates the perfect warm environment for lice to live in.  Lice bite into human skin and feed on human blood. They inject saliva into the host which may cause an immune response and pruritus (itching). In most cases the bite reaction is very mild but in some cases it can cause some irritation. Lice affect many race groups but are more common in Caucasian and Asian individuals. Girls are more likely to be infected than boys, due to their long hair and more frequent head to head contact. Key indicators for lice infestations include: itching, scratching or the physical presence of lice.

Lice Myths or questions:

1. Lice infestations do not solely occur on dirty hair: Lice infestations are found equally on clean or dirty hair. They are extremely difficult to remove and specific treatments are required. Lice have three pairs of legs with a single claw terminating from each limb. This claw attaches to an individual’s clothing or hair and ensures that it is not washed away during routine hair cleaning. Lice need to be killed and the claw dislodged in order to remove a lice infestation, therefore it is imperative to comb thoroughly

 2. Lice do not jump from one person to another: Lice are incapable of “flying” or “jumping”, but they can climb very well. They are transferred through head to head contact or through contact with personal items such as hair brushes or hats. They crawl from one hair follicle to another using this singular claw mentioned previously 1. Lice reproduce rapidly, and it is this quality that may add to the belief that they “jump” from person to person. Mature lice produce 6-8 eggs daily for 12-16 days. At most there are around 10 to 12 live lice during an infestation, but there can be hundreds of unhatched eggs and/or nits on attached to the hair (2, 3, 4).

3. After a lice infestation you need to wash all bedding or clothing: Lice can only survive for 2 days out of human hair. They require a constant food source and warm habitat for survival. “Speare et al” tested whether lice would remain alive on pillow surfaces after 1 night of sleep. Of the 48 test subjects, only 2 pillowcases contained live lice. These lice were found after 2 and 9 hours of application 5 thus demonstrating that lice cannot survive away from the hair and that there is a low risk for re-infestation from bed linen, however, in order to minimise all risk, it is recommended that only the items that have had intimate or prolonged contact with the head be washed (hats, brushes or combs).

The majority of lice removal products on the South African market use natural oils to remove lice. These ingredients alone cannot remove lice, and thorough combing is needed to remove outliers and nits (lice eggs). Paranix lice removal products use mineral oils and in the Treatment Spray, a combination of mineral oils and dimethicone to kill and remove lice from the hair.


  1. University of Illinois http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/handouts/head_lice.html
  2. Canadian Paediatric Society http://www.cps.ca/documents/position/head-lice
  3. Head lice in schoolchildren. Ibarra J, Hall DM Arch Dis Child. 1996 Dec; 75(6):471-3.
  4. Pediculosis and scabies. What to look for in patients who are crawling with clues. Forsman KE. Postgrad Med. 1995 Dec; 98(6):89-90, 93-5, 99-100.
  5. Head lice on pillows, and strategies to make a small risk even less. Speare R1Cahill CThomas G. Int J Dermatol. 2003 Aug;42(8):626-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12890107