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Homes Don't Get Head Lice, People Do


Parents want to take immediate action for the lice problems their children bring home.  Unfortunately, many often perceive their homes to have lice rather than the children. The truth of the matter is that the majority of head lice transmissions occur through person-to-person contact.  Spraying the environment or hiring extermination services for head lice eradication is unwarranted, and can pose potential health threats.

Steven Blum, President of Acme Pest Control Company and Director of the National Pest Control Association, stated: "We often receive calls demanding that we spray for lice.  We use this opportunity to explain that head lice are human parasites which need human blood to survive.  These insects will generally die after about 24 hours once off the host.  There is no scientific justification to spray for head lice at home or in the school environment.  It is our job as pest control professionals to distinguish between the risks and benefits of certain insects versus certain pesticide applications.  Head lice do not qualify for pesticide extermination measures.  Unfortunately, now and again, one hears of a pest control operator who buckles under great pressure, finding it easier to do a light pyrethrin fogging than run the risk of losing an account.

The Seventh Edition of the Pest Control Operator's Handbook discusses the PCO's function in head lice management.  The role of structural pest control is limited when it comes to direct louse control.  Unlike fleas and ticks, which can live off the host, the head louse must live on its host to survive.  Thus there is little benefit in spraying buildings or subjecting children's environments to the other remedial treatments.

School administrators should not consider spraying lockers or coat racks, but rather should adopt a sanitary strategy for the short term storage of hats and coats.  In the home, parents should be more focused on thorough nits removal than with unnecessary housework or bagging.  Vacuuming is the safest and best way to remove lice or fallen hairs with attached nits from upholstered furniture, rugs, stuffed animals and cars.  Placing items like bed sheets in a dryer for ½ hour on high heat is just as effective as washing them.  Additionally, parents need only be concerned about items and surfaces that have had recent contact with affected individuals.


August 17, 1992

Deborah Z. Altschuler
President/Executive Director
National Pediculosis Association, Inc.
50 Kearney Road
Needham, MA 02494

Dear Ms. Altschuler,

We received your request for an updated opinion on the use of insecticides for the environmental control of pediculosis.  The use of insecticides for the environmental control of pediculosis is not recommended for the following reasons:

  1. There is no evidence that the use of environmental insecticides in an institution or home achieves faster control of head lice then no use of insecticides at all.
  2. The short survival time of head lice away from the human body insures that environmental surfaces would be free of any lice that were accidentally deposited there in about 48 hours.
  3. Although insecticides, when properly used, are generally safe and effective, the tendency towards abuse of these products and the possible environmental hazards cause by such abuse are, in my opinion, greater than the health hazards posed by lice.
  4. Epidemiologic studies, finally, indicated that most transmissions of head lice occur by direct person-to-person contact and not by the person-environment-person route.


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