How Do Kids Get Lice?

Julie Kirk
Boy scratching his head

Homework may not be the only thing your kids bring home from school. Your kids can also bring home lice which are commonly transmitted between school-age children. While lice are not considered dangerous and do not spread disease, they are highly contagious and need to be treated immediately.

How Are Lice Transmitted?

Lice cannot jump or fly. They actually crawl from child to child. Once they are on a child's head, they will firmly attach themselves to the hair shaft with hook-like claws.

Direct Contact

The most common way lice are transmitted among kids is by direct head-to-head contact. This can happen when kids are closely interacting. For example:

  • Playing or sitting in close proximity to each other
  • Hugging
  • Napping close to each other
  • Playing video games
  • Watching a show or video on the same electronic device
  • Taking selfies

Indirect Contact

Another possible but less common way your kids can spread lice is by indirect contact. This happens when kids inadvertently share lice-infested items such as:

  • Sharing combs, brushes and hair accessories
  • Trying on each other's hats
  • Sharing towels
  • Using the same pillow
  • Using each other's headphones or earbuds
  • Using each other's sports equipment such as helmets and baseball caps
  • Lying on a bed, sitting on a couch or rug, or even playing with a stuffed animal that had recent contact with an infested child

Where Do Kids Get Lice?

Lice can be contracted at school, daycare, home, sports activities and even places such as the playground, slumber parties and summer camp.

One place you will not pick up lice from is your pet dog or cat. Pets cannot catch lice and play no part in their transmission.

'Dirty Kids' and Lice

A popular misconception is that kids who are 'dirty' or have poor hygiene get lice. This is completely false. Hygiene plays no part whatsoever in the transmission of lice. Actually, kids of any age, race, or socioeconomic group can contract lice.

Why Kids Get Lice More Often Than Adults

Adults are not immune to getting lice and can contract them the same way kids do, by direct and indirect contact. However, kids do contract lice more often than adults because they simply have a lack of regard for personal space and are in extremely close contact with other kids every day. They also tend to share personal items more freely, such as combs, hats and earbuds.

Who Is Patient Zero?

When a lice outbreak at school occurs, it can be very difficult to determine who patient zero actually is. This is due to so many potential carriers in a small concentrated area. One student can come to school with lice and an outbreak can happen very quickly. Even though lice crawl, they can move fast and your child can contract lice immediately upon exposure. Because of how rapidly this transmission happens, patient zero often remains a mystery.

What to Watch Out For

Your child may have head lice infestation if they have:

  • A sensation or tickling feeling from movement in the hair
  • Excessive itching
  • Sores or small red bumps found on the scalp, neck or shoulders
  • Difficulty sleeping due to lice being most active in the dark
  • Identifiable lice on scalp or visible nits on hair shafts

A conclusive diagnosis of head lice infestation is determined by the finding of a live, moving nymph or adult louse. Treatments such as over-the-counter products, prescription medications, a special comb etc. will then be necessary to help eliminate the lice.

Educating Your Kids About Lice

Regardless of age, it is important to educate your kids about lice prevention. They need to know:

  • What lice are and how they can get them
  • How to avoid direct head-to-head contact
  • Why they shouldn't share personal care items even if they don't have lice
  • Why it is best to hang up coats and hats separately and not pile them together

Don't Panic

If by chance your kid brings home lice, do not panic. Lice pose no serious health risks. Be reassured that with proper treatment, your lice problem can be eliminated quickly and easily.

How Do Kids Get Lice?