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4 Myths about Lice

 Learn the truth about these little buggers (they're gross, but not as bad as you think!). Barbara Frankowski, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, helps us bust common head-bug beliefs:

Myth 1: Lice are incredibly contagious.

Fact: It takes close, head-to-head contact for lice to spread, says Dr. Frankowski. Plus, lice can live on an object like a comb, hat, or pillow for only about 24 hours—a very small window of time.

Myth 2: Lice are resistant to the available treatments.

Fact: Many over-the-counter remedies usually work fine, insists Dr. Frankowski, as do homespun fixes. She recommends applying Cetaphil cleanser to the head and leaving it on overnight to suffocate the lice. Then shampoo, and comb out the dead pests. The key is to repeat whatever treatment you choose at least twice (a third time might be necessary), spaced a week apart, to ensure you get any eggs that may hatch in the interim.

Increasingly, however, there has been evidence of growing resistance to over-the-counter remedies. Newer prescription drugs have come out in the past year or two that are more effective in a pinch. Benzyl alcohol, marketed under the brand name Ulesfia is one such FDA-approved topical solution. Other new nontoxic alternative topical treatments prescription-only lotions, Ovide and Natroba, attack lice through different channels from permethrin, the neurotoxin used in Nix and Rid.

A third product, Sklice, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in February.

Myth 3: If your child gets lice, you need to wash everything.

Fact: "It can't hurt to wash bedding and hats," says Dr. Frankowski, noting that one study found lice on only 4 percent of the pillowcases of infested people. "But you don't need to go to Herculean efforts to clean everything."

Still, if lice is a recurrent problem, it wouldn't hurt to simply get out of the house for a spell. 

"If there is any way you can get out of the home for 55 hours, the lice will die," said pediatrician Dr Alan Greene, MD. "They cannot survive without a human host for longer than 55 hours. If you were thinking about taking a weekend away some place, this is a good time to do it."

Myth 4: Lice are a sign of bad hygiene.

Fact: The tiny insects don't signal that your kid is "dirty," and they don't harm him in any way. Point is: Relax! If lice happen, you deal and life goes on.