Can Black People Get Lice? Unraveling the Facts and Myths

Lice infestation is a concern for people of all races and backgrounds. Human lice, including head lice and body lice, survive by feeding on human blood and can be found on various parts of the body. There are misconceptions about certain ethnicities being immune to lice infestations, so it’s essential to examine the facts.

According to the CDC, the three types of lice that affect humans include Pediculus humanus capitis (head louse), body lice, and pubic lice. These parasites do not discriminate and can infest people of any race, including black people. However, some factors might affect the prevalence of lice in different populations.

Understanding Head Lice

Lifecycle of Lice

Head lice are parasitic insects that infest the head and neck region, attaching their eggs to the base of the hair shaft. They have three stages in their life cycle:

  1. Eggs (Nits): Lice eggs, called nits, are oval-shaped and the size of a pinhead. They hatch in about 7-10 days into nymphs.
  2. Nymphs: These baby lice mature into adults after 9-12 days, feeding on human blood.
  3. Adult Lice: Adult lice, or Pediculus humanus capitis, are about the size of a sesame seed and can live up to 30 days on a person’s head.

Symptoms and Signs

Head lice infestation can cause various symptoms and signs, including:

  • Intense itching
  • A tickling feeling or crawling sensation on the scalp
  • Irritability and difficulty sleeping (lice are more active at night)
  • Sores on the head caused by scratching

Transmission and Contagiousness

Head lice are primarily spread through close person-to-person contact and cannot hop or fly. Some common ways lice transmit include:

  • Direct head-to-head contact (most common)
  • Sharing personal items (combs, brushes, hats)
  • Using infested bedding, clothing, or towels

Pros and cons of lice treatment methods:

Method Pros Cons
Over-the-counter treatments Easily accessible, affordable Some lice may be resistant, may need multiple treatments
Prescription treatments Effective against resistant lice Can be more expensive, may have side effects
Manual removal (wet combing) No chemicals, inexpensive Time-consuming, may miss some lice or eggs

Lice and Hair Types

Black Hair and Lice

Black hair, often coily and tightly curled, can create a unique environment for lice. Some people believe that black people are immune to lice, but this is a myth. Lice can infest anyone’s scalp, regardless of hair type or ethnicity. However, there are certain factors that can make lice infestation less common among African Americans.

  • Hair products: Many African Americans use hair oils, grease, and other products, which can make it difficult for lice to grip hair shafts.
  • Hairstyles: Protective hairstyles like braids, cornrows, and weaves can make it harder for lice to reach the scalp or move about in the hair.

Pros:

  • Protective hairstyles and hair products can reduce the risk of lice infestation.

Cons:

  • Lice can still infest the scalp if they manage to find a suitable environment.

Caucasian Hair and Lice

Caucasian hair is typically straight or wavy, with a rounder hair shaft. This hair type is often more susceptible to lice than African American hair. Here are some reasons why:

  • Hair shaft: The round shape of Caucasian hair shafts allows lice to easily grasp the hair with their hook-like legs, moving closer to the scalp to feed on human blood.
  • Less oil: Caucasian hair usually contains less oil, which makes it easier for lice to grip the hair shaft.

Pros:

  • None really, as Caucasian hair is more susceptible to lice infestation.

Cons:

  • Less protection from hairstyles and hair products, making lice infestation more likely.
Black Hair Caucasian Hair
Hair Shaft Coily, harder for lice Round, easier for lice
Hair Products Often oily, harder for lice Less oil, easier for lice
Hairstyles Protective styles (e.g., braids) Lice-accessible styles
Lice Infestation Less common More common

Although there are differences in hair types and its susceptibility to lice, it is important to note that lice can potentially infest any scalp. Preventative measures, like regular hair care and avoiding close head-to-head contact, should be practiced by everyone to minimize the risk of lice infestation.

Prevention and Treatment

Preventive Measures

To avoid lice infestations, focus on personal hygiene and limiting close contact:

  • Teach children the importance of not sharing personal items like hats, combs, hair accessories, scarves, or headphones.
  • Avoid head-to-head contact during activities at school or child care.
  • Maintain regular hair washing and grooming routines.

For schools and preschools, take these steps:

  • Disinfect shared items like pillows, towels, or headphones.
  • Educate parents about lice prevention and detection methods.
  • Establish protocols for managing lice cases.

Treatment Options

If lice are detected, consider over-the-counter (OTC) treatments or consult a healthcare professional.

OTC Treatments:

  • Shampoos containing benzyl alcohol 5%1.
  • Lice removal kits with a nit comb.

These treatments might not work for everyone, and you may need to consult a healthcare professional for alternative options.

Home Remedies:

  • Coconut oil2.
  • Tea tree oil3.
  • Peppermint oil4.

*Note: The effectiveness of home remedies hasn’t been scientifically proven; consult your healthcare provider before using them.

Comparison Table

Treatment Pros Cons
OTC Shampoos FDA approved1 May not work for everyone
Nit Comb Removes lice and nits effectively Time-consuming
Home Remedies Natural ingredients Lack of scientific evidence

Remember, always consult a healthcare provider before starting any treatment, especially for children, those with allergies, or if symptoms persist.

Footnotes

  1. CDC – Lice – Head Lice – Treatment 2

  2. Coconut Oil for Lice Treatment

  3. Tea Tree Oil and Head Lice

  4. Peppermint Oil for Lice

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Crab Lice found on husband!!!

 

Subject: Bug attached to skin
Location: Iowa
April 30, 2014 5:56 pm
My husband found these little bugs on/under his skin, upper thighs. Any thoughts on what these little guys are? Very frustrating!
Signature: Kell

Crab Lice
Crab Lice

Dear Kell,
These sure look like Crab Lice,
Phthiris pubis, to us.  BugGuide only has a few images and very little information.  You can learn more about this human parasite on the Penn State Entomology site where it states:  “These lice are found mostly in the hair of the pubic area. They may also be found under the armpits, in the beard or mustache and on the eyebrows and eyelashes. Their development from egg to adult normally requires from 30 to 41 days. Adult crab lice live about 30 days. Females deposit 30-50 eggs (in her lifetime).”

Crab Louse
Crab Louse

 

Letter 2 – Crab Louse

 

Subject:  What’s this bug?
Geographic location of the bug:  Ontario, Canada
Date: 10/28/2018
Time: 02:50 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Can you tell me what type of bug this is, I am tore on distinguishing it between a tick or Pthirus pubis. Found on my significant other. We found about 30 in total. All located on inner thighs, stomach, bum and public area, also two on his arms.
How you want your letter signed:  Trina

Crab Louse

Dear Trina,
This sure looks like a human Crab Louse,
Pthirus pubis, to us, especially when compared to this BugGuide image.  Finding 30 on your significant other indicates this is a problem that has gone unchecked for some time, and the number would indicate that these Crab Lice are reproducing on the host.  Also, you might want to check other members of the household to see if these external parasites have spread beyond the body of your significant other.

Thank you, I have checked myself and the remaining family members and we did not find any on us. I have cleaned my house top to bottom and washed all bedding and clothes throughout the house.

Letter 3 – Does the Louse Fly carry diseases???

 

Louse fly
September 1, 2010 11:13 pm
my wife brought home a dead bird (here in the Catskill Mtns of NY). While examining it, a flat fly -which had a habit of running through the birds plumage- landed on me and went down my shirt. It appears to have bitten me as well on my back.
Q:do I need to worry about transmission of disease w/this species of fly?
Signature: alex mallon

Louse Fly

Dear Alex,
This is a great question and we need to research it, but we can tell you that Flies are probably the group of insects most likely to transmit a disease to a human.  The number of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and flies is extensive.  With that said, we have not heard of a Louse Fly transmitting a disease to humans.  We have taken the liberty of posting an old photo of a Louse Fly sent to us from England to accompany your question.

Letter 4 – Fish Louse

 

Whats that big please?
Hello, i found this bug on my fish, can anyone tell me what is it? thanx and is it harmful to my whole tank now? i found it on my sick fish that has black spots all over it, then today i saw this bug, so i quarantined the fish and removed this bug to a cup alone for further investigation, please help me with my questions if you can, thank you
Sincerely,
Adel M. Ammari

Hi Adel,
This is a Fish Louse, Argulus species. We are posting your letter with a link to a site called the FishDoc, The Home of Fish Health, that talks about treatment. You should treat immediately to avoid an infestation.

Letter 5 – Head Louse

 

Subject: Head louse?
Location: San Diego
January 2, 2014 1:24 pm
I just found this while brushing my daughters hair. It is magnified 40x. Do we have lice?
Signature: Worried mom

Head Louse
Head Louse

Dear Worried mom,
Sadly, you are correct.  This is a Human Louse and we would urge you to seek professional help and advice for correctly eradicating them from your family since they do spread.  Your daughter might have contracted the Lice from school, so you might also want to contact your daughter’s school or daycare facility.  There is still some stigma attached to a Lice infestation, so you should urge the school officials to respect your honesty and anonymity.  While we sympathize with your situation, we are grateful that you have been able to contribute such an excellent and detailed image of this miniscule bloodsucker.  More information can be found on the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Entomology site.

Thank you. I started treatment right after I asked… Just in case. Thank you again.

Letter 6 – Head Louse

 

Subject: concerned about head lice
Location: Ontario Canada
December 29, 2014 10:17 pm
Hi i recently got a new girl friend and at the beginning of are relationship i pulled a single creature from her hair, thinking nothing of it i meirly flicked it away and searched her head for more of them and found nothing. Sometime later my head was itching and i pulled a similar creature from my head and took a picture of it, concerned i looked at my gfs hair and found one in her hair again but there only seemed to be one and i took a picture of it to can you please tell me what bug or creature this is and how to deal with it?
Signature: Ky from Ontario

Head Louse
Head Louse

Dear Ky,
You are correct in your concern that this is a Head Louse.  Shaving your heads is one method of control, but should you prefer something less obvious, you can either take advantage of over the counter medications or consult with your physician.

Letter 7 – Head Louse

 

Subject: Head Louse
Location: VA
October 13, 2015 12:03 pm
I treated my daughter about a month ago and have checked her consistently since then because I am so paranoid. She found this last night, and I am pretty sure that it’s a head louse. I searched her head and found NOTHING – no nits, no other bugs. I am going to treat her again anyway, but I wanted to be certain that I am right because it is driving me INSANE.
Signature: Erica

Head Louse
Head Louse

Dear Erica,
You are wise to retreat your daughter.  This is in fact a Human Louse.  Your previous treatment may have worked, but if your daughter is in contact with an infested individual at school or at play, she was probably subject to a newly introduced Louse.

Letter 8 – Correction: Bird Louse, not Louse Fly

 

Stag Beetle grubs and…lice?
Location: Wheaton, IL
December 4, 2011 11:02 pm
Hey Bugman,
The other day my dad was complaining that there was something crawling on his hand. We took a look at it and It reminded me of some type of louse, but as we looked through the bug books and skimmed the internet, nothing turned up. Wondering if you could help? We live about thirty miles west of Chicago, IL. Also found these three big grubs under a rotting log about a month ago… Probably reddish-brown stag beetle larvae?
Signature: thanks, Sam

Probably Bird Louse

Hi Sam,
We are dealing with your two requests separately in an effort to maintain some semblance of order in our archives.  We believe you father encountered a Louse Fly in the family Hippoboscidae.  Louse Flies are true winged flies, however, their flight is quite feeble.  When the alight upon a host, often a large mammal like a deer or a sheep, they shed their wings and remain attached like a louse, sucking blood.  Some Louse Flies are found on birds.  You may compare your image to this BugGuide image.

Correction:  December 5, 2019
A comment from Ricardo indicates this is most likely a Bird Louse rather than a Louse Fly.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Crab Lice found on husband!!!

 

Subject: Bug attached to skin
Location: Iowa
April 30, 2014 5:56 pm
My husband found these little bugs on/under his skin, upper thighs. Any thoughts on what these little guys are? Very frustrating!
Signature: Kell

Crab Lice
Crab Lice

Dear Kell,
These sure look like Crab Lice,
Phthiris pubis, to us.  BugGuide only has a few images and very little information.  You can learn more about this human parasite on the Penn State Entomology site where it states:  “These lice are found mostly in the hair of the pubic area. They may also be found under the armpits, in the beard or mustache and on the eyebrows and eyelashes. Their development from egg to adult normally requires from 30 to 41 days. Adult crab lice live about 30 days. Females deposit 30-50 eggs (in her lifetime).”

Crab Louse
Crab Louse

 

Letter 2 – Crab Louse

 

Subject:  What’s this bug?
Geographic location of the bug:  Ontario, Canada
Date: 10/28/2018
Time: 02:50 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Can you tell me what type of bug this is, I am tore on distinguishing it between a tick or Pthirus pubis. Found on my significant other. We found about 30 in total. All located on inner thighs, stomach, bum and public area, also two on his arms.
How you want your letter signed:  Trina

Crab Louse

Dear Trina,
This sure looks like a human Crab Louse,
Pthirus pubis, to us, especially when compared to this BugGuide image.  Finding 30 on your significant other indicates this is a problem that has gone unchecked for some time, and the number would indicate that these Crab Lice are reproducing on the host.  Also, you might want to check other members of the household to see if these external parasites have spread beyond the body of your significant other.

Thank you, I have checked myself and the remaining family members and we did not find any on us. I have cleaned my house top to bottom and washed all bedding and clothes throughout the house.

Letter 3 – Does the Louse Fly carry diseases???

 

Louse fly
September 1, 2010 11:13 pm
my wife brought home a dead bird (here in the Catskill Mtns of NY). While examining it, a flat fly -which had a habit of running through the birds plumage- landed on me and went down my shirt. It appears to have bitten me as well on my back.
Q:do I need to worry about transmission of disease w/this species of fly?
Signature: alex mallon

Louse Fly

Dear Alex,
This is a great question and we need to research it, but we can tell you that Flies are probably the group of insects most likely to transmit a disease to a human.  The number of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and flies is extensive.  With that said, we have not heard of a Louse Fly transmitting a disease to humans.  We have taken the liberty of posting an old photo of a Louse Fly sent to us from England to accompany your question.

Letter 4 – Fish Louse

 

Whats that big please?
Hello, i found this bug on my fish, can anyone tell me what is it? thanx and is it harmful to my whole tank now? i found it on my sick fish that has black spots all over it, then today i saw this bug, so i quarantined the fish and removed this bug to a cup alone for further investigation, please help me with my questions if you can, thank you
Sincerely,
Adel M. Ammari

Hi Adel,
This is a Fish Louse, Argulus species. We are posting your letter with a link to a site called the FishDoc, The Home of Fish Health, that talks about treatment. You should treat immediately to avoid an infestation.

Letter 5 – Head Louse

 

Subject: Head louse?
Location: San Diego
January 2, 2014 1:24 pm
I just found this while brushing my daughters hair. It is magnified 40x. Do we have lice?
Signature: Worried mom

Head Louse
Head Louse

Dear Worried mom,
Sadly, you are correct.  This is a Human Louse and we would urge you to seek professional help and advice for correctly eradicating them from your family since they do spread.  Your daughter might have contracted the Lice from school, so you might also want to contact your daughter’s school or daycare facility.  There is still some stigma attached to a Lice infestation, so you should urge the school officials to respect your honesty and anonymity.  While we sympathize with your situation, we are grateful that you have been able to contribute such an excellent and detailed image of this miniscule bloodsucker.  More information can be found on the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Entomology site.

Thank you. I started treatment right after I asked… Just in case. Thank you again.

Letter 6 – Head Louse

 

Subject: concerned about head lice
Location: Ontario Canada
December 29, 2014 10:17 pm
Hi i recently got a new girl friend and at the beginning of are relationship i pulled a single creature from her hair, thinking nothing of it i meirly flicked it away and searched her head for more of them and found nothing. Sometime later my head was itching and i pulled a similar creature from my head and took a picture of it, concerned i looked at my gfs hair and found one in her hair again but there only seemed to be one and i took a picture of it to can you please tell me what bug or creature this is and how to deal with it?
Signature: Ky from Ontario

Head Louse
Head Louse

Dear Ky,
You are correct in your concern that this is a Head Louse.  Shaving your heads is one method of control, but should you prefer something less obvious, you can either take advantage of over the counter medications or consult with your physician.

Letter 7 – Head Louse

 

Subject: Head Louse
Location: VA
October 13, 2015 12:03 pm
I treated my daughter about a month ago and have checked her consistently since then because I am so paranoid. She found this last night, and I am pretty sure that it’s a head louse. I searched her head and found NOTHING – no nits, no other bugs. I am going to treat her again anyway, but I wanted to be certain that I am right because it is driving me INSANE.
Signature: Erica

Head Louse
Head Louse

Dear Erica,
You are wise to retreat your daughter.  This is in fact a Human Louse.  Your previous treatment may have worked, but if your daughter is in contact with an infested individual at school or at play, she was probably subject to a newly introduced Louse.

Letter 8 – Correction: Bird Louse, not Louse Fly

 

Stag Beetle grubs and…lice?
Location: Wheaton, IL
December 4, 2011 11:02 pm
Hey Bugman,
The other day my dad was complaining that there was something crawling on his hand. We took a look at it and It reminded me of some type of louse, but as we looked through the bug books and skimmed the internet, nothing turned up. Wondering if you could help? We live about thirty miles west of Chicago, IL. Also found these three big grubs under a rotting log about a month ago… Probably reddish-brown stag beetle larvae?
Signature: thanks, Sam

Probably Bird Louse

Hi Sam,
We are dealing with your two requests separately in an effort to maintain some semblance of order in our archives.  We believe you father encountered a Louse Fly in the family Hippoboscidae.  Louse Flies are true winged flies, however, their flight is quite feeble.  When the alight upon a host, often a large mammal like a deer or a sheep, they shed their wings and remain attached like a louse, sucking blood.  Some Louse Flies are found on birds.  You may compare your image to this BugGuide image.

Correction:  December 5, 2019
A comment from Ricardo indicates this is most likely a Bird Louse rather than a Louse Fly.

Authors

  • Daniel Marlos

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

14 thoughts on “Can Black People Get Lice? Unraveling the Facts and Myths”

  1. Someone may have a lot of explaining to do after they read this ID and discover the most common way of getting infested 🙂

    Reply
  2. In most cities, there are companies that will get rid of head lice in one visit. It’s $75 in the Atlanta area, and takes about an hour. VERY well worth it. That stuff’s a pain to rid of.

    Reply
    • They won’t get rid of headlice in a home in one visit. You treat heads. Very worth it for them maybe. Shampoo, combs, lotions, tea tree oils and being contentious in following instructions on the bottle of solution. Interested to hear what an exterminator will do in your home to rid it of headlice.

      Reply
  3. Seriously folk? Exterminators? Kids get lice all the time. You hug a kid, you let your neighbours kid brush your hair, you know anyone that is in contact with kids, you can get nits. You use the shampoo solution properly, you comb them out, you wash the bed sheets (overkill) and they go away. No shame, no blame. It’s just nits.

    Reply
  4. He’s not taking about an exterminator (Chris can correct if I’m wrong). There are companies that send experienced folks to your home to help you do the treatments and make sure you have everything. It’s a head treatment, although some include assistance and advice on how to treat the rest of your home (linens, clothing, furniture, etc).

    Reply
  5. The above photo labelled as “Louse fly, we believe” is NOT a fly of any kind. It is a feather or bird louse of the family Menoponidae, perhaps of the genus Trinoton, with species living on ducks, geese and swans. Perhaps Sam’s father had been handling one of those birds and the louse crawled onto his hands, a phenomenon which often happens when handling recently killed birds.

    Reply

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