Can black people get lice? The answer is yes, but they are less likely to get lice than a white person. On average, 10.4% of white children will get head lice at some point while they are in school while only 0.3% of black children will be infested.
Interestingly enough, the head lice do not carry any bacteria or viruses. They are just a nuisance and feed on human blood from the scalp and eyebrows. Where there is body hair, the lice will find their way to it.
The bigger issue with lice is the social stigma that the child must endure after being diagnosed. The peer judgment is brutal, and the embarrassment for the child is traumatizing in many respects. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is an excellent resource to educate yourself on the problem and this video provides some visual reference to the problem for black people.
How Do You Know if You Have Head Lice?
Well, the first order of business is to know who is at risk. It is most common for pre-schoolers, elementary school student, and the people that these children live with a home. But, patient zero in most families is the child. Thus, it’s good practice to keep an eye on your child and look for this kind of behavior:
- The child is always scratching the scalp to relieve the itching.
- There are sores on the scalp from the parasite burrowing into the skin to feed on the child's blood.
- Irritability caused by sleep deprivation since the parasites are most active in the dark making it difficult for the child to get to sleep.
- Egg deposits at the neckline and behind the ears. These eggs are called nits and are about the size of a tight knot of a piece of sewing thread.
It can go undetected for a while if you’re not attentive to the symptoms. For a first infestation, the itching may take up to 6 weeks to manifest itself thus eliminating the most obvious sign early in the process.
So, checking the scalp for sores during the bath or when you comb the child's hair is a good practice. If the child’s behavior deviates from the norm and irritability for no good reason occurs, check for lice.
How Does my Child Get Head Lice?
The louse has existed from the earliest of times and has evolved in concert with humans. The louse needs a host body to survive through feeding on the blood of that host. Some human has lice just because the parasitic insect lives with us.
As such, the source for your child becoming infested with lice is from physical contact with an infested schoolmate. The most common way is from head to head contact. Lice do not have wings, and they cannot “jump” from one host to another. The only way they move is to crawl using claws on each of their six legs to grab hold of the host’s hair. If your child’s hair comes into contact with an infested child’s hair, your child will become infested.
The interesting fact about black children being less prone to becoming infested with lice than a white child has to do with the shape of the hair on both children. White children's hair is round which is compatible with the claw structure on the louse insect. It’s easier for them to grab the round shaped hair and crawl along. Black children’s hair is more oval in shape and as such more difficult for the louse insect to get hold of it and use it to crawl. Thus, the lower incidence of infestation.
The Social Stigma of Head Lice
Misinformation is the reason any social stigma exists about head lice. It’s difficult to eradicate which leads people to believe your child does something to prevent being cleared of the pest such as poor hygiene or mixing with the wrong people.
However, an infestation of lice is not due to bad personal hygiene, social status, home cleanliness or school environment. In truth, lice are attracted to a clean head. That’s because the louse insect prefers to lay their eggs (called nits) in a clean, warm spot. Anyone is subject to the infestation. The stigma is misplaced because frankly, it’s akin to catching a common cold and nothing to be ashamed of.
Kids can be amazingly brutal to other children for the slightest of reasons. The harsh words spoken to a child who may have infested another child can be very damaging to the child’s self-esteem and lead to psychological problems. The only solution to solving that problem is to educate families about head lice and talk about it openly rather than in the shadows of the playground or bathroom. Learn more about stigmas prevention here.
My Child has Head Lice. How do I Get Rid of It?
The chances are pretty good that your child’s school has a protocol to follow if they suspect your child has head lice. The school nurse can confirm it at which point, the child will be given shampoo to take home with them that will remove the lice over time. The child must be kept out of school until the lice infestation is resolved. All members of the household should be treated at the same time. Follow these steps according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC):
- Clothing worn by the child for the two-day period before diagnosis that touched the head should be washed and put in the dryer. Dryer heat more than 128 degrees Fahrenheit will kill the insects.
- Head touching clothing that can’t be laundered should be sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks.
- Run the vacuum through the entire house to pick up any hair the child may have shedded over time.
- Apply the lice medicine (pediculicide) to the hair using the bottle’s direction leaving it in the hair for the prescribed length of time. Clay can be a natural alternative.
- Shampoo the hair to wash out the remnants. (avoid other hair products until the lice are gone)
- Have the child put on clean clothing.
- Follow up as necessary and repeat the procedure until all the lice and nits have been removed.
The CDC guidance has additional follow-up and supplemental procedures to follow in the event of difficulty exterminating the insect in its entirety. This site has some interesting content and feedback from parents about getting rid of lice. This video provides some additional guidance.
Can Black People Get Lice: Yes
Can black people get lice? Yes, black people can get lice just like everyone else although the chances are less than that of a white child. So, watch your school-aged child carefully for any signs of the infestation.
- It's tougher to get lice with very short hair or being bald.