When I recently saw the internet buzzing about kids possibly contracting lice from their Halloween costumes, I got as ragey and itchy as the next parent. The theory is that there’s a spike in lice outbreaks around Halloween because kids often try on costumes right off the rack, one kid after another, all putting on the same costumes. Additionally, the theoretical uptick could be caused by the prevalence of hand-me-down costumes.
As soon as I heard all that, I got a mad urge to scratch every last inch of my body, and I had to hold back the bile that was quickly rising in my throat at just the thought of those seedy little mofos daring to enter my home in any way, shape, or form.`
Because even though lice are actually relatively harmless, they are a royal pain in the ass to get rid of, and they are creepy AF. I remember actually feeling them crawl around my scalp the one time I got lice as a kid, and I vividly remember my mother walking us girls to the laundromat, where we basically lived for a weekend as we de-liced our house.
So, nope. Nopety, nope, nope. I would actually willingly make my kids’ Halloween costumes myself if that was the only way to avoid a lice outbreak (and for the record: I can’t sew for shit and have literally no time or interest in costume-making).
And yet, I thought to myself, could it really be that bad? Why hadn’t I heard of this phenomenon in all of my 39 years on planet earth? What was going on?
So I did us all a favor and got in touch with Adam Ward, COO of Lice Clinics of America to get the down-low on this issue and to find out if we all do in fact need to destroy our kids’ recently acquired witch and pirate hats.
Lice Clinics of America describe themselves as “the world’s largest network of head lice treatment clinics in the U.S.” They claim to have successfully treated more than 350,000 cases of lice, which sounds like a pretty good track record to me.
And guess what? I have some very welcome news for all you itchy parents out there: In terms of this Halloween costume scare, you probably have nothing to worry about.
“Head lice don’t live on wigs, masks, costumes, or clothing,” Ward tells Scary Mommy. “They live exclusively on human heads with hair. Although it is possible that lice can get knocked off the head (particularly in very heavy infestations) and onto such items, people get infested with lice primarily when their head comes in direct contact with an infested head.”
Well, thank GAWD for that. Holidays like Halloween are stressful and busy enough for us parents without the added stress of freaking lice.
According to Ward, head-to-head transmission is the No. 1 way kids get lice — not from wearing lice-infested headgear. That means your kid is more likely to get lice knocking heads with a fellow trick-or-treater while they are racing to the door for candy than they are from wearing a hand-me-down costume.
Well, I guess that’s pretty reassuring, huh?
Of course, the chance of getting lice from a costume isn’t zero. Ward explains that the tighter the fit of the costume, the more likely a louse is to get knocked off the child’s head and nestled into the fabric of the costume (sorry for the graphic description there, folks).
Still, if the louse did infest a costume, it would only survive 15 hours without its host (a delicious human head), and even then, its chances of survival would be slim.
“If a louse were to get knocked off an infested head and onto a Halloween costume, it would most likely be dead within 15 hours, since they have to feed on human blood every 3–4 hours, and the longer they go without feeding, the more dehydrated and weak they become,” Ward said, going on to explain that costumes you know haven’t been worn in the past day or so really pose no danger whatsoever.
Obviously a store-bought costume that is in a package should not be a concern at all. As for costumes on the rack that may have been tried on by more than one child? Ward says not to worry too much about those either.
“If it was hanging on a rack, there is always a chance it could have been tried on by someone with lice,” Ward tells Scary Mommy. “But that chance is so low that we really don’t think parents should worry about it.”
The same goes for the hand-me-down costumes that so many parents rely on (remember: not every family has the cash to splurge on a new, fancy costume each year). Again, Ward says that if you know a costume hasn’t been worn in the past day or so, there is really nothing to be concerned about. But if you think there is a chance it was worn, you can always throw it in the dryer on high heat for 30 minutes just to be safe. “That will kill any lice that may have been on them,” Ward assures.
Ward tells Scary Mommy that it’s even easy for us parents to inspect our kids’ costumes for lice ourselves. Ummm…thanks?
“Lice are tiny bugs about the size of a sesame seed,” Ward says. “A quick visual inspection of a costume would tell you whether any lice are on it.”
And now I’m itching again.
And if you still aren’t convinced, Ward cites a study from 2000 published in the International Journal of Dermatology that shows how extremely rare it is for lice to live on hats or other headgear. “In that study, researchers screened hats and heads of students in four schools in Australia,” says Ward. “They found more than 5,500 lice on the students’ heads, but no lice at all in the more than 1,000 hats from those students.”
The bottom line, according to Ward: “Don’t worry so much about lice this Halloween,” he says. “If your kids do get lice, they most likely will get it the same way as the rest of the year — by putting their heads against other kids’ infested heads.”
So, I won’t be stressing out too much about lice in my kids’ Halloween costumes this year.
However, I will probably start cringing even more when I watch my boys tumble all over each other on the playground, bumping and knocking heads together. I am sure I will now be picturing those sesame seed lice jerks jumping from one kid’s head to the other.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.