Have you started itching and wondered to yourself, “Can black people get head lice?”. Perhaps you’ve been sure that something can’t happen to you only to have that very thing occur?
Maybe you always wake up on time without an alarm clock…until one day you sleep past the start of an important meeting.
Maybe you never run out of gas because you know exactly how far you can get on that last gallon…until your car starts to sputter.
There are so many things to keep in mind these days with appointments, meetings, pick-up and drop-off times, and emails to return. With all of this going on, who isn’t going to take the opportunity to not think about something?
It is common to think that black people do not need to worry about lice. But when the letter comes home from school that some students have had lice, it’s important to know for sure.
Can black people get lice?
It is common to hear that black people can’t get lice, but is it true?
Nobody wants to think about lice. The thought of those tiny parasites crawling around is not a pleasant thing to consider. If you are black and have heard that black people don’t get lice enough times in your life it’s just one less thing to think about.
However, lice are parasites that live by sucking the blood of their host and staying warm from their host’s body heat. All human nationalities fit that description. We all have blood, body heat, and, excluding those of us who are bald, hair.
The unfortunate answer is that black people can indeed get lice.
Where does the saying come from?
If black people can, in fact, get lice, where does the saying come from? Why would it be so common to hear, in such absolute terms, that black people do not get lice?
The thing is, there is a kernel of truth to the saying. It is not true that black people cannot get lice, but it is true that it isn’t very common for African-Americans.
A study conducted in 1985 showed that roughly 10% of white children got lice while only .3% of African-American children got lice. The question is why there is such a huge difference. If only .3% of black children in the United States get lice it is understandable why it is common to think that black people can’t get lice.
Why is it so rare for African-American children to get lice?
There are probably several factors to explain this phenomenon, but for our purposes, let’s trace it back to the Europeans who settled America. Lice were the loyal companions of European whites until about the 19th century. Naturally, then, when these Europeans crossed the ocean and came to America, they brought lice with them. These are the ancestors of our current head lice.
The next piece of the puzzle is shape. The shape of hair. It turns out that white people tend to have round cross sections for their hair, a shape that our European lice are well adapted to. Black people, on the other hand, tend to have an oval cross section shape to their hair. This oval shape is just different enough to make lice uncommon with African-Americans. On the continent of Africa, however, there are lice that are well adapted to this oval shape resulting in plenty of African children suffering from lice.
Head lice are adapted for particular conditions. For head lice to survive they need just the right conditions. This narrow adaptation is why head lice live on humans and not animals and it is why a small change in hair shape is enough to, usually, keep lice away.
Awareness not worry
Now that you know it is possible for black people to get lice you can keep an eye out for evidence of lice. When your child brings a note home from school saying that some of the children have lice, you can take precautions and not be taken by surprise.
While the threat of lice is nothing to lose sleep over, it is helpful to be informed about the possibility. You can rest assured that the Lice Clinic of America has the resources you need for determining if you or your child have lice and what steps to take. There are simple steps to take to get rid of the lice and clean up any eggs or live bugs that may be around.
If you do encounter lice, use our website as a resource and give your nearest lice clinic a call.