Head Lice and Swimming: Here Are The Connections

Children all over the country love to swim during the hottest times of the year. Summer months are full of opportunities for kids to splash around with friends and family creating awesome memories near the pool. Unfortunately, most of us can’t afford the luxury of a private home pool. That means most often we are swimming with crowds of people hoping to beat the summer heat. Crowds can mean head lice outbreaks. What does swimming mean for head lice? Can head lice swim? Does chlorine kill them? Here are the facts every poolside parent should know this summer:


Can Head Lice Swim?

No, not really. Head lice are not swimmers, however, they are survivors. When head lice are put under water they go into ultimate survival mode. This means they can hold their breath for extended periods of time, over four hours. Head lice have strong claws on the tip of each of their six legs. They use these claws to grasp onto hair strands and stay safely on their host head until brought up out of the water again. For this reason, head lice DO NOT die from swimming, shampooing hair or bathing.


What are the Chances of Getting Head Lice in the Water?

In the event that a louse is knocked off into the water, it will float to the top. As it floats it is possible that it would be able to attach to a new host head if it came up right next to it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is highly unlikely. The riskiest thing children will do at the pool is sharing towels. The interwoven fabric of towels is an ideal place for head lice to grasp and lurk until they find a new host. If another child uses it to dry off their body, dry their hair or lay down they are more likely to contract head lice than swimming in the water.


What about the Chlorine? Does it Kill Head Lice?

The chlorine in swimming pools has been shown to NOT kill head lice.


What can I do if I am Worried About Head Lice at the Pool?

Wearing a swimming cap is always an option if you are overly concerned. However, the biggest way to prevent spreading at the pool is to talk to kids about not sharing towels.


Is Summer the Most Prevalent Time for Head Lice Outbreaks?

Some people will tell you that warm months are prime time for head lice outbreaks. That is not exactly true. Head lice are spread most commonly by direct head to head contact. During the summertime, children are often playing closely together outside, on vacations or at camps. For this reason, there are many outbreaks in the summer, but not due to the weather rather the increase in contact with other children.  The most common times we see outbreaks are summer camp, back to school, spring break, and any extended vacations from school such as Christmas break.


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