Can Black People Get Lice? Head Lice Infection Facts Revealed

do-black-people-get-liceHead lice are a common problem faced by most children and women all over the world.

Do black people get lice or can African Americans get lice” is a question often raised in many forums. We are coming to this point later in this article.  

What are head lice?

The louse (plural: lice) is a parasite that attaches itself to human hair and feeds on human blood.

Head lice are tiny insects that live on human scalp under the shelter of hair.

They can also grow on eyebrows and eyelashes.

Head lice infection, called pediculosis capitis, mostly seen in children and women.

Thick and long hair maintained by most women is a conducive shelter for lice to thrive.

Lice infection is rampant among the young children than the adults. Lice easily spread from one child to another because of the physical closeness they have in classrooms and playground.  

Pediculosis capitis can occur to anyone despite good hair hygiene.

Lice do not cause any viral or bacterial infection.

Q&A About Lice

Parents often get panicked when they see a speck in the size of a sesame seed on their child’s hair.

Fortunately, head lice do not cause any serious disease. However, the itching and irritation caused by head lice are bothersome.

Here are some of the common questions and answers regarding lice:

1. Where do lice come from?

Head lice are believed to have evolved from body lice. It came into existence about 100,000 years ago.

According to a report published in the Journal of Parasitology, the head lice originated in North America. It then migrated via travelers and reached all parts of the world.

Lice transfer only by crawling.

Head lice infestation mostly happens from head-to-head contact.

If you have head lice then probably you have got it from your family member, friends, or strangers with whom you have close contact or through using shared items. 

2. What do head lice look like?

Adult head lice are about 3mm long and have six legs.

Generally, the color of the head louse varies from binge to gray. However, the louse turns dark brown after they have fed on blood.

They are often seen in the color of the person’s hair they’ve infested.

Head lice stay at the base of the hair shafts on the scalp as this helps them suck blood from the scalp.

The eggs laid by female lice are called nits; eggs are oval and usually appear in colors ranging from yellow to white.

3. How do you get head lice?

Lice migrate by crawling.

You can get head lice when you come in close contact with a lice infected person. 

Sharing same cot, bedding, hat, hairbrush, comb or dress used by the infected person can also cause their spread.

Head lice transmission does not happen via pet animals.

4. Who gets head lice?

Head lice infection is rampant among preschool- and elementary school-age children and their family members.

According to CDC estimate, over 6 to 10 million American kids and women get head lice infection every year.

Girls and women easily get lice infection because of the long hair they keep.

5. How long do lice live?

The lifespan of a louse is approximately 30 days.

However, lice cannot live more than 24 hours off the host.

They multiply very fast. A grown-up female louse lays 3 to 5 eggs a day.

The life cycle of the head louse has three stages: egg, nymph, and adult.

Nits take 7 to 10 days to hatch, and within 10 days a louse becomes mature and begins to lay eggs.

6. How to check for lice?

Checking for lice is easy. Just part your child’s hair, and then shine a bright light on to the scalp.

If your child has lice, then you notice brown insects moving around on the scalp in the size of a sesame seed.

Nits are gray or white colored tiny eggs attached individual hair strands.

It is somewhat difficult to brush nits out of the hair shafts.

The appearance of nits on hair indicates that you have louse infection.

7. What are the symptoms of head lice infestation?

Common symptoms of lice infestation are:

  • Intense itching on scalp
  • Irritability
  • A tickling feeling of something crawling on your scalp, neck or forehead;
  • Red bumps on the scalp, neck, ears or forehead;
  • Bleeding small sores on scalp caused by itching;
  • Appearance of lice eggs on hair strands.

8. Can Black People Get Lice?

Head lice are common to all people. It is not limited to race or socio-economic strata of the person.

Lice do not differentiate between white or black people. So it is obvious that black people do get head lice just like people of every other race.

Head lice can happen to anyone without exception to hygiene and living environment of the person.

9. Can African Americans get lice?

As we have already discussed above, African Americans do get lice just as the whites do.

10. How do lice spread?

Head lice spread from the infected person to others through close physical contact or sharing same bed, dress or other personal objects.

11. What is the color of lice?

Adult lice and nymphs (baby lice) are tan or grayish white. An adult louse may appear dark brown after it has fed on human red blood.  

Nits (lice eggs) look like tan, brown, white or yellow before they hatch.

How to get rid of lice?

There are several options to get rid of head lice both OTC treatments and home remedies.

At first, you can start by adopting a few lifestyle changes and home remedies to deal with head lice.

It is not necessary to treat your pets or fumigate your home to eliminate head lice.

Head lice do not come from your pets or environment.

According to CDC report, complete removal of nits is unnecessary to get rid of head lice. However, you can remove most of the nits with the help of lice comb.

Use only one OTC lice removal solution at a time.

Start your lice removal treatment with clean hair. Do not use a combination of shampoo and conditioner products when you are having lice treatment.

The treatment you apply to hair must last for minimum 5 hours on the scalp and hair.

Most popular OTC products for head lice treatment are:

  • Melathion (Ovide)
  • Ivermectin lotion
  • Spinosad topical suspension
  • Benzyl alcohol lotion
  • Lindane

Over-the-counter treatments for head lice

There are several over-the-counter (OTC) treatments available for getting rid of head lice.

Permethrin Lotion: It is a synthetic substance that can eliminate both lice and nits. The dosage of Permethrin should be around 1 percent only. The residue of the medicine can last up to 7 days on hair which is good enough to kill the newly hatched lice arising out of eggs not destroyed in the initial application.

If lice continue to exist, you can do a second application of Permethrin lotion after 10 days or use stronger dosage recommended by your doctor. It is safe for children above 2 months old.

Pyrethrins: It is extracted from chrysanthemums.  It should be used for children above 2 years. It works well for eliminating lice but not nits. Repeat the treatment after a week to kill the newly hatched lice after the first application. Repeat the use of Pyrethrins till the lice are fully got rid of.

Home Remedies for Lice

It is easy and safe to remove the head lice infection with simple home remedies.  Here are some the effective and easy home remedies:

1. Using fine-toothed comb

You can remove nits and lice from hair shafts by using a fine-toothed comb or a special nit comb when the hair is wet. Repeat this combing after every three days.

2. Tea Tree Oil for Lice  

There have been many claims and counter-claims on the effectiveness of tea tree oil in managing head lice problem.

Some of the studies suggest that tea tree oil may be effective in treating head lice.

According to a study published in Parasitology Research tea tree oil can kill the adult and nymph lice. This oil also has a significant effect in reducing the hatching rate of nits.

Another study published in the International Journal of Dermatology dealt with the effectiveness of different essential oils in managing head lice. This study found tea tree oil as more effective in controlling head lice compared to lavender oil, peppermint oil, and insect repellent DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide).

According to the recommendations of Mayo Clinic, extensive research is needed to ascertain the effectiveness of tea tree oil in combating head lice.

3. Olive Oil for Lice

Olive oil is an age-old remedy for treating head lice.

Applying a thick layer of olive oil on the scalp and hair strands suffocates the active lice, and this leads to their death.

Allow the olive oil to stay on hair for up to 8 hours to bring about total suffocation of the head lice.

Olive oil kills only lice and not the eggs. For this reason, the treatment should be repeated once in every 3 days till the lice are fully eliminated.

Fortunately, using olive oil for hair is also beneficial for making your hair healthy and beautiful.

4. Garlic

The suffocating smell of garlic is unbearable for lice, eventually killing them.

Take 10 cloves of garlic and grind them into a paste-like consistency. Add 3 teaspoons of lemon juice to the paste to form a lotion.

Apply the mixture thoroughly to the scalp and hair. Rinse off the applied lotion from the hair after an hour.

Since this treatment kills only the active lice, it is necessary to repeat the treatment after every four days to eliminate the newly hatched nymphs.   

5. White Vinegar

White vinegar is an excellent treatment for head lice if used correctly.

Most of the acids have germs and parasites killing properties. White vinegar has about 5% of acetic acid concentration which is safe for use on scalp and hair.

White vinegar cannot dissolve the exoskeleton (the protective shell of nits) of lice eggs.

However, the acetic acid helps loosen the glue that holds the nit to the hair shaft. Loosened nits can easily be removed with a nit comb.

Applying diluted vinegar on scalp and hair kills lice and loosens the lice eggs on hair shafts.

Lice cannot withstand the burning effect caused by the acetic acid present in white vinegar.

While using vinegar for lice treatment, make sure to dilute it with an equal amount of water.

After applying the diluted vinegar on hair and scalp, wrap the scalp and hair with a towel for two hours.  

Dip lice comb in the diluted vinegar and comb your hair focusing on one small section of hair at a time.

Repeat the treatment twice a week till the lice infection is removed.

6. Coconut Oil for head lice

In one of the clinical trial conducted by the Medical Entomology Centre in the UK, it was found that combination of coconut oil and anise spray worked better than permethrin lotion for head lice.

Coconut oil lubricates the hair and scalp which obstructs the free movement of lice. Oil also loosens up the nits from the hair shafts.

Apply coconut oil generously to your hair and scalp. Wrap you your scalp and hair in with a shower cap or towel and leave it for six hours or overnight. Then comb your hair with a lice comb to remove the head lice and nits.

Repeat the coconut oil treatment for head lice thrice a week till the lice infection is totally removed.

7. Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly or Vaseline helps remove head lice.

It works as a suffocant which gets stuffed into the head lice’s breathing tubes and as they cannot breathe, they die.

Apply the petroleum jelly on dry hair and then wet the hair. After applying the jelly on hair make sure to cover up the scalp and hair with a towel for few hours.

You can use baby oil or dish soap to remove the petroleum jelly from the hair and scalp. Then comb the hair with a lice-comb to easily remove the lice and nits.

You have to repeat the treatment for several days till you entirely get rid of the head lice.

The Bottom Line

Head lice found in black people and white people alike.

Hope you have got the answer to the often raised questions like “can black people get lice” or “can African Americans get lice”.

Head lice can occur to anyone regardless of color, race or sex.

Head lice infection is most common among Pre-school and primary school children, and women.

You can easily get rid of head lice infection with either OTC products or natural remedies at home.

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