Ask the Pediatrician: Positives to Lice

Five Things I Like About Lice

By By Samantha Ahdoot, MD

Lice have few friends in this world. While I would not count myself among them, I do appreciate that lice have several endearing characteristics. Here are five things that I, as a pediatrician, like about lice.

1. Lice can’t fly

Lice can only crawl. They cannot fly or jump. This means they can only travel from one person to another by crawling directly from head to head. This is a very good characteristic. You cannot get lice from another person unless you put your head close to theirs. That is why preschool children are most likely to get lice. While older people usually respect others’ personal space, preschoolers are often on top of each other, rolling and tumbling. It is also why caregivers of young children often get lice.

2. Lice don’t carry any diseases

Fleas carry plague, ticks carry Lyme disease, and mosquitoes carry malaria and all sorts of bad things. Lice carry no diseases. This is very good. While lice are highly distasteful and itchy, they will not make you sick.

3. Lice can only live on a human head

I love this quality of lice. Bedbugs can live for months on a surface without feeding on a person. Lice, on the other hand, die after 1-2 days of falling off a human head. They do not lurk on bed sheets, hats or hairbrushes. It is usually recommended to wash sheets and hats that were in contact with an affected person within the past few days. But the risk of spread from objects is very small. This means that there is no reason to use chemicals in the home to stop the spread of lice. That’s good!

4. Lice are relatively easy to kill

Anyone who has tried to eradicate bedbugs knows that it is very, very hard. Bedbugs hide in miniscule crevices in beds, luggage, you name it. Lice pose no such challenge. They live in only one place and are often susceptible to over the counter medication. When this does not work, there are several prescription medications that will kill them. While repeat treatments may be needed, and nit combing is labor intensive, it is nothing compared to the heating of a room to 120 degrees for two hours required to kill bedbugs.

5. Pets don’t get lice

Cats and dogs do not get lice. Only people get lice. An affected child can hug their pet and rub heads all they want, the pet won’t get lice.

Dr. Ahdoot has been Board Certified with the American Board of Pediatrics and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) since 2002. She joined Pediatric Associates of Alexandria in 2003. She is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Inova Campus, as well as Attending Physician at Inova Alexandria and Fairfax Hospitals. Dr. Ahdoot serves as the Chair of the Pediatric Department of Alexandria Hospital, and has been recognized in multiple editions of the Washingtonian Magazine’s Best Doctors magazine, most recently in 2018.