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Head lice: Who gets and causes

Who gets head lice?

Anyone can get head lice. In the United States, children in preschool and elementary school are most likely to get head lice. Children can spread the lice to their parents, caretakers, and others in their households.

Girls seem more likely than boys to get head lice. This may be because girls tend to have more frequent head-to-head contact than do boys. You’ll often see girls in head-to-head contact at school, on the playground, at camp, or at a slumber party.

What causes head lice?

Head-to-head contact is the most common way to get head lice. The lice move from one person to the next by crawling. They cannot fly or jump. It may seem like lice can jump because they are tiny and move quickly.

Head lice actually crawl everywhere. They crawl from person to person and on to objects that come into contact with human hair such as hats and towels.

Because head lice crawl onto objects that have touched the human head, it is possible to get head lice by sharing everyday objects infested with lice such as hats, scarves, coats, hair accessories, brushes, combs, and towels. Resting your head on a bed, pillow, couch, chair, or rug that someone with head lice used is another way to get head lice.

Burkhart CN, Burkhart CG. “Fomite transmission in head lice.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2007; 56(6):1044-1047.

Frankowski BL, Bocchini JA. “Head Lice.” Pediatrics 2010; 126(2):392-403.

Jacobson CC, Abel EA. “Parasitic infestations.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2007; 56(6):1026-1043.