Can Black People Get Lice?

Do Black People Get Head Lice?Here’s the truth about head lice and African Americans.

If you don’t know what a head louse is, it’s a parasites about the size of a sesame seed and it feeds on human blood. If you need more factual information head over to our FAQ&A’s.

The head louse, Pediculus capitis humanus, is by no means a new nuisance. The parasite has been an unwelcome companion to humans as far back as the days of Cleopatra and beyond.  Read more about  Where Do Lice Come From?

Let’s first explain the differences between black and Caucasian hair. To understand the difference between African-American, Black and Caucasian hair it’s important to understand how hair grows.

Beneth the surface of our scalp lie thousands of hair follides. They are found in what is called the dermis. The texture and the thickness of each individuals hair is dependent upon the shape and size of the hair follicle. How thick a persons hair is depends on both the size of the hair follicles and how many there are on each individuals scalp.

Primary Differences

  • Hair molecular structure and shape results in tightly wound or similarly straight
  • Follicle density or the number of follicles per inch on/in the scalp
  • Thick wide follicle structure versus thinner
  • Overall growth rate
  • Ability to keep follicles moisturized
  • Propensity for damage, breaking and tearing

The wave pattern and bonding is what makes the big difference between African-American hair and Caucasian hair.  The principal bonds are hydrogen and polypeptide. Close to 88% of the hair is made of polypeptide bonds. They are difficult to break and are what gives the hair its strength. This bond is also what is responsible for the tight curls. In order to break the bond a permanent straightening treatment has to happen.

African-American hair tends to produce plenty of sebum or protective oils, generally more than other ethnicity’s hair.

Head lice find it difficult to navigate in black hair because of the construction of the hair. It is hard for the tiny insects to “get a foothold” on all of the twists and turns of black hair, so they tend to prefer European hair because it is easier to navigate.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln reports:

“In 1985, a study showed that only 0.3% of African-American children were infested with lice compared with 10.4% of non-African-American children. This study has been repeated, with similar results. However, in these surveys, there were still a few, rare cases of head lice among African American children.”

So, the answer to the question is YES, African Americans can get head lice head-hair and racesalthough rarely in the US.

In Africa countries though native children are infested with head lice but their head lice are adapted to hang onto the oval cross section of curly hairs.

If you’re interested in further studies you can refer to Terri Meinking a head lice researcher at the University of Miami School of Medicine, discussion in Current Problems in Dermatology.

In Summary:

Head lice have to be highly adapted to their environment if they are going to thrive.

  • This means they have to be able to scoot around easily in human hair.
  • The shape of hair strands differ between different racial groups and this affects head lice.
  • Africans living in Africa get head lice that are highly adapted to living in hair with strands that are oval in cross-section. The differences are small but they are significant.
  • Caucasians have round hair strands and have head lice that are adapted to this shape.
  • In North America most head lice seem to come from the Caucasian strain and thrive in children with round hair strands, that is mainly Caucasian and Hispanic children.
  • There are some cases of head lice in African-American children but the pool of these head lice seems to be very much smaller and so the incidence of head lice is much lower.

There are plenty of reports of bi-racial children getting head lice so we have to assume that their hair is suitable for at least one, maybe both strains of head lice to prosper.

Continued Education:

7 Things White People Don’t Understand About Black Hair

Want to fall out of your seat laughing? Read the Bitchin’ Sisters account and suggestions on head lice in the Huffington Post, it’s hysterical.  If profanity bothers you – pass on the read.

Sources: UNL, Mayo Clinic Head Lice FAQ, Global Health Associates of Miami

Image Credit:  Head Hair & Race to: http://watchingtheworldwakeup.blogspot.com/2009/11/awesome-wife-i-spent-weekend-nit.html

Publisher:  Let’s Be P.A.L.S

Contributor:  Julie B

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Where Do Lice Come From?

ancient lice combsLice are said to be prevalent even before the recording of history began. The earliest recorded presence of head lice dates back over one million years ago.

The fact that head lice have been prevalent for over one million years suggests that humans and lice have a long and itchy history together. This research is currently being used for the development of a time line for human evolution.

Fact: Lice have been found on ancient Egyptian mummified bodies.

Head Lice Treatment: Earliest Records

Head lice (blood-sucking insects that grow to about 2-3mm long) have most likely resided on people for as long as humans have existed

The earliest records of head lice treatment in the United States is from the early 1800’s. The Wisconsin Historical Museum has a bone lice comb from the frontier days (pictured).

Fort Crawford was not a notably healthy environment. Soldiers could expect a seasonal threat of mosquito-born malaria as well as periodic outbreaks of dysentery, cholera, and typhus.

The lice comb pictured was excavated from the site of Fort Crawford by archaeologists in the 1930’s documenting one other insect nuisance Fort Crawford soldiers had to endure: head lice.
After a series of floods during the 1820s which slowly degraded the structure, the Army finally abandoned the wooden fort and built a second Fort Crawford of cut stone on higher ground a short distance away.

Not until 1864 when Louis Pasteur definitively document the full developmental cycle of lice and other insects did the prevention of infestations begin. Head lice became less prevalent during the period of World War II (mid 1900’s). This was due to the use of the chemical agent DDT. This chemical agent was a powerful pesticide that was utilized to destroy mosquitoes that spread malaria. It also had effects on decreasing the populations of head lice.

Previously routine companions of people of all economic levels, pesticides and improvements in daily hygiene made head lice infestations relatively rare in modernized countries by the mid-twentieth century. Soldiers and visitors to Fort Crawford, however, dealt with head lice as a normal part of life, simply accepting periodic infestation in much the same way as they would have to deal with an occasional bout of influenza or a cold.

To manage an outbreak people used fine tooth combs to remove adult lice and their eggs (or nits) from their hair and then crushed them. Other treatments of the time included the application of an ointment of brimstone (sulphur) and lard to reduce the itching, and saturating the hair with ‘red precipity’ (mercuric oxide powder) to try to kill the lice. The latter treatment probably slowly harmed the patient as much as it helped, but doctors still frequently used mercury compounds during the early nineteenth century as most were not convinced of the element’s poisonous properties.

Fine tooth combs (like the Terminator Comb) and those used at Fort Crawford still play a large role in combating lice infestations to this day.

Get your FREE Quick Family Lice Removal Guide

Reference & Picture: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/museum/artifacts/archives/002505.asp

Publisher:  Let’s Be P.A.L.S

Contributor:  Julie B