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Myths about head lice

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

The root of the lice problem

Head lice is the red headed stepchild of the childhood ailment world. No one wants to have it and when they do, no one wants to talk about it. As a result, it's a vastly misunderstood problem with many myths associated with it.

Child Scratching Head
I remember the first time I learned about head lice. I was five and a girl in my dance class had gotten it. Fearful that I might catch lice from her, I was instructed to stand at the far end of the room away from her. I certainly didn't what lice was, beyond something bad that you just don't want to catch.

A few years later, mandatory checks in school made my classmates and I uncomfortable. Fortunately, no one was infected. However the same uncertainty and fear of lice from childhood is often what people carry into their adulthood.

What are some misconceptions about lice?

Myth #1: Only dirty children get head lice

Head lice is not associated with a lack of cleanliness. Anyone can get it.

"I always thought that "other people's kids" got head lice. You know, the ones who look like they never wash their hair and are constantly bedraggled looking. Not true. If you have pre-school age kids THEY WILL GET IT. And if you hug your kids -- YOU WILL GET IT TOO!," says Mommy blogger Susanna Cesar of A Modern Mother.

Myth #2: You have to use the pesticides in the store to get rid of lice

Experts say that some strains of lice are getting harder to fight. They say that the lice are becoming resistant to the pesticides sold under brand names like RID. One father told me that for his family, over the counter medications had no effect, forcing them to seek other methods of removal including prescription shampoo and manual removal of nits.

Myth #3: "No nits" policies are in the best interest of kids

In an attempt to prevent the spread of lice in schools, many district adopted "no nits" policies that exclude students from class at the site of any nits, or lice eggs. However, experts say these policies are counterproductive.

Famed Harvard Researcher Richard Pollack says that lice is often misdiagnosed. "Although lice and their eggs may be seen without the help of magnifying devices, the viability of the eggs cannot be judged without magnification and a degree of training. Of more than six hundred samples of presumed lice and nits submitted to us for examination, fewer than two-thirds contained evidence of any infestation," Pollack said in a statement.

Myth #4: You don't need to worry about lice unless someone close to you gets it

Parents should always be aware of head lice because it's such a hushed topic. Diligent parents should conduct head checks roughly every two weeks. The best time to do this is in the bath. Simply shampoo and use a fine tooth comb to comb through your child's hair. Watch for lice falling into the water and check at the nape of the neck and behind the ears for bites.

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