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.


What is Your Summer Camp’s Head Lice Policy?

Summertime is prime time for kids to go away to camps. There is nothing quite like an adventure away from home, under the stars, hiking, camping and experiencing mother nature. According to the American Camp Association, there are about 7,000 overnight camps and about 5,000 day camps in the U.S., for a total of more than 12,000 camps. These camps are attended each year by more than 11 million children.

One of the most common problems reported by these camps is the outbreak of head lice. Various policies and procedures are usually put in place to help with this. Some camps offer head lice screenings during camp and on the spot treatment, sometimes provided by local Lice Clinics of America. Other camps contact parents for the child to be removed from camp as soon as an infection is discovered. Some camps offer lice treatment shampoos and leave the child on the campsite. Alarmingly still, others have no policy in place and are often left scratching their heads about how to handle the situation.


Why is Summer Camp Such a Problem?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Head lice are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infected person. Anyone who comes in head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice is at greatest risk….Personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school (or camp) has nothing to do with getting head lice.”

Summer camp is all about close-knit bonding time between kids! They spend their days and nights together laughing, hugging, sleeping under the stars. This gives head lice more opportunities than normal to pass from head to head. Children are also much less concerned with personal space than adults. As they develop close friendships and spend time together, they are physically closer as well making head lice more transferable.

Another fact is the season, summertime creates warm environments where head lice are more prone to be active. They don’t become dormant in winter but are definitely more active in warm months where it is easier to spread.


How to Prevent Lice at Summer Camp?

Talk to your local Lice Clinics of America about preventative products that can be used to help ward off head lice. We offer shampoos, conditioners, and sprays that use lice deterrent ingredients humans cannot smell. These products are safe and quite effective at repelling head lice in the first place.

Notify the camp directors about what policies and procedures they have in place to prevent an outbreak. If your camp is not prepared, invite them to contact your local Lice Clinics of America to come up with a plan. We are a professional source for head lice screenings, prevention and safe treatments for head lice outbreaks.

Talk to your kids! Teach them how lice are contracted. Remind them not to share things like brushes, hats, blankets, pillows, towels or even headphones. Keep girls hair pulled back in braids or ponytails to prevent infection. Cut boys hair with short, trimmed styles that keep it protected from head lice.

Remind children that anyone is susceptible to head lice. Dirty people are not more prone to head lice.  Anyone is at risk. Make sure they feel safe and know it is not dangerous.


What Do I Do When My Child Returns Home?

Take the time to perform a head screening on your child. Keep in mind that head lice symptoms usually take a few weeks to fully manifest. The first indication will be eggs, or nits laid at the base of the scalp. Female adult lice lay 6-10 eggs per day. They are cemented to the base of the hair shafts, very near the scalp to prevent them from flaking off. This can help you determine between dandruff and nits. Still, don’t know what to look for? Lice Clinics of America offers head lice screenings at a low cost to help you determine if you have a problem.

Wash all their belongings on high heat settings. Any personal items used at camp that cannot be washed need to be sanitized with bleach or placed in the dryer on a high setting for 30 minutes.