By Chris Williams on December 19, 2018.

My granddaughter was sent home from school with head lice. Her mother is in a panic, all worried that her brothers and sisters and even the family dog are going to end up with head lice. She wants an exterminator to treat their home ASAP but is having trouble finding one who will do that. Why is that a problem?

A.P., New Castle, NH

Head lice can be scary for parents and students. After all, these creepy little insects suck blood, and cause itching and embarrassment. On the positive side, head lice can be eliminated and they do not transmit diseases. Once you know a little bit about head lice, you will understand why pest control companies do not, and should not, treat homes for head lice.


Head lice are human parasites that rarely leave their human hosts. They are adapted for living next to the warmth and moisture of a scalp and even have special claws designed to give them a tight grip on hairs. Their eggs even have to be attached to hairs in order to hatch.

The life cycle of head lice. Shutterstock.

People confuse blood-sucking head lice with blood-sucking bed bugs (see What’s the Difference Between Bed Bugs and Head Lice?). Bed bugs wander. Bed bugs do not live on their hosts, and only rarely in their clothes, but will move between daytime hiding places and beds where they feed at night. Head lice, though, stay put. They do not wander around homes or schools looking for a new child to infest.

Head lice can be spread accidentally by head-to-head contact, or when children share brushes, hats, pillows, or sleeping mats. Because they are soft-bodied and dry out easily, lice that are dislodged from a head do not survive for long. Having a pest control company treat schools or lockers or homes will not help to get rid of head lice since the head lice are on heads. Spraying insecticides in your home or on bedding or clothing will only expose your family to insecticides unnecessarily.


Girl’s hair being treated for lice. Shutterstock.

Hopefully, the school sent your grandchild home with instructions for getting rid of head lice. Children with head lice should be treated at home with an approved louse shampoo (see your physician or pharmacist) and a special comb that removes head lice and their eggs (nits) from the hair. In some cases, nit combing alone can eliminate the lice. Children’s hats, brushes, clothing, and bedding should be washed in hot water and dried in a dryer if suitable.

The bottom line is that head lice are a medical problem, not a pest control problem. An exterminator that will treat your home for head lice is not doing you any favors and may be making an illegal application. Assure your daughter and granddaughter that head lice are not very “contagious” as long as everyone is careful. With a little combing and diligence, your granddaughter should be back in school soon enough.

For more on how to handle head lice, check out the website of the National Pediculosis Association (NPA).



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