If I have to shave my head now, I will be very cranky.
March 15, 2010 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Did I get lice today?

I was in our communal office when a co-worker came in with her daughter and happily announced that she had head lice and that's why she wasn't in school today. I promptly left, but later learned that I was sitting in the chair that her daughter had sat in earlier in the day. The daughter was in the chair for a few hours; I was in it for about 20 to 30 minutes. The chair was empty for at least a half hour before I sat in it. I didn't rub my head on the chair or anything, but is it possible or likely that the chair had lice on it and that they are now on my clothes or on my scalp? If so, how possible? Do I need to boil the clothes I wore today and buy special shampoo? How long will it take for me to know for sure if I have lice?
posted by k8lin to Health & Fitness (22 answers total)
Had the girl been treated with the shampoo yet? If she'd already been treated you probably don't have anything to worry about, but if not then I'd start the freaking out.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:22 PM on March 15, 2010

I'd say the risk is near zero unless you were sharing a hat or a hairbrush with her. My 1st grader has never gotten lice despite several breakouts at his school, and that's a place where the lice-ridden kiddies are running all around, lying on the carpet, hugging, etc, before they're diagnosed.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:32 PM on March 15, 2010

Response by poster: TooFewShoes, I have no idea. My co-worker mentioned "Oh we have to buy the shampoo and stuff, haha, and we probably all have it." (I think she meant her family?) So, probably not, but hard to tell.
posted by k8lin at 2:34 PM on March 15, 2010

Probably not. We had a lice outbreak in our home that ended up being confined to just one of us, and we were in a lot closer, more prolonged proximity than you were in that chair.

That said, the lifecycle seems to be 7-10 days, and you will suffer from massive psychosomatic iching in the meantime. Sorry for you. That was pretty crappy of that mom.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:37 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I second near zero -- lice don't live off the body, they move via head-to-head contact. I really, really wouldn't worry. I once would have worried, but after 5+ years of infestations and successful de-infestations at our local schools, I have undertaken a lot of research, theoretical and in the field. The word "lice" can make you itch!
posted by bwonder2 at 2:37 PM on March 15, 2010

You don't need to boil your clothing, but wash it on the hot water cycle. The internet tells me 130 degrees F.

How long is your hair? If it's very short, it seems unlikely it would go hair > chair > clothing > your hair. It usually needs to go Hair > something that touches hair (pillow, hat, comb) > hair.

If your hair is very long and was touching the chair, it's more possible.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:39 PM on March 15, 2010

Best answer: I second near zero -- lice don't live off the body, they move via head-to-head contact

Actually they can survive for a bit ("less than two days", so an hour or two should be cake). I still think it's unlikely, but it's still a good idea to wash your clothing.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:41 PM on March 15, 2010

the kid probably had only a couple. it's really unlikely that you got something from her for just a few hours.
posted by lester at 2:57 PM on March 15, 2010

My kids have been infected through occasional outbreaks at their school, they've had them often enough that I hate the little suckers. The lice, that is, not my kids.

It is HIGHLY unlikely that you've picked them up when you haven't been in direct head-to-head contact with the sufferer. However, I agree that it's hard to ignore the niggling thought that you may have picked something up. Psychosomatic itching is awful.

I keep a lice comb in the shower for this reason. When I'm notified of an outbreak, I check the kids first and then when I shower I use the comb on my conditioned-but-not-yet-rinsed hair, looking for signs of infestation... which I have yet to find in my hair, and I live in the same house and sit on the same lounge and car seats as/with the kids who bring them home from school. I think you're safe, but you may want to get a lice comb for the shower just to reassure yourself.

Not much help to you, OP, but perhaps to others reading this thread: a few drops of tea-tree oil diluted in a litre of water makes an excellent deterrrant spray. I spray my kids with it every morning before school, it's light enough to not look greasy but potent enough to keep them lice-free during a class outbreak.

And how inconsiderate was your colleague to bring her daughter to work and let her lounge all over the furniture, while cheerfully announcing that she has (apparently as-yet-untreated) head lice???
posted by malibustacey9999 at 3:32 PM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

If it were me I think I'd buy some sort of lice treatment on my way home and use it just in case along with the lice comb treatment that malibustacey9999 refers to, but then my head is itching just reading your question.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:47 PM on March 15, 2010

Live lice don't much like not being on people; the big transmission vector in schools is thought to be students putting there heads in close proximity. the big risk for you is if a hair with attached eggs transfered from the visitor to your head via the chair. The shampoo only effects live lice so eggs are viable for 7-10 days after last treatment. I'd wash and comb my hair (twice probably, lice are no fun at all) at first opportunity and inspect the chair for stray hairs to be safe.

Be careful with tea tree oil, it's still a pesticide even though it is sourced from natural sources. And it doesn't seem to actually be effective at low concentrations.
posted by Mitheral at 3:49 PM on March 15, 2010

Best answer: One more thing -- I would highly recommend not using the lice shampoo unless you're certain you have 'em. That stuff is seriously poisonous. It's just one step short of putting Raid on your head.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:44 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Richard Pollock, at Harvard's school of public health, has a great resource:
Treatment should be considered only when active lice or viable eggs are observed. Itching of the scalp or the perception that something is crawling on the head do not warrant treatment for lice. Without magnification and suitable experience, they may be difficult to correctly distinguish from other material caught in the hair. Amongst presumed "lice" and "nits" submitted by physicians, nurses, teachers and parents, most are simply artifacts such as dandruff, hairspray droplets, scabs, dirt, or other insects (e.g. aphids blown by the wind and caught in the hair).
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:12 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's a quiet, pro-active suggestion:

Buy yourself a fine toothed comb. No, not just your hard rubber, fine toothed, common Ace comb, but a lice comb, and a stiff little comb cleaning brush. Then, for the next week to 10 days, comb your head, hard, with your lice comb, 2 or 3 times a day. Clean your lice comb with your comb cleaning brush between each combing, and sanitize your lice comb, after each intensive combing, with hot water and soap, drying it completely, even in the high temperature output of a hair dryer.

Bear down when you comb your hair, and comb it all, several times, in each combing session, and keep doing so, for 3 or more combing sessions a day. You'll probably be picking up a lot of dandruff, and pore clogged whiteheads from your scalp, but keep combing, hard. Examine your comb for nits and buildup after every few strokes, and clean/disinfect your nit comb as needed. Within a few days, you'll have a perfect understanding of whether you have head lice, or not.

Probably, you'll be enjoying a greater standard of scalp health, than ever you have known before...
posted by paulsc at 6:14 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'll wash my clothes and keep an eye out. I have short hair. I am probably overreacting a bit, but I really do not want lice.
posted by k8lin at 7:38 PM on March 15, 2010

As someone who seems to catch lice every time someone mentions the word lice around me (hell, I've probably caught them just from reading this question), I would go on the offensive and use the lice shampoo now, and again in 7-10 days. If you have them, you've taken care of them, and if you don't, you've at least got peace of mind.

If you don't feel comfortable using the shampoo on your head, you can always slather your hair with mayonnaise and wrap it in plastic wrap for a few hours. This is what my mom did for me when I was in 6th or 7th grade and the lice I had were immune to the over the counter shampoos. (As an aside, I seem to remember there being an epidemic of permethrin-resistant lice from several years ago, but maybe I've imagined that...) The mayonnaise would suffocate the live lice on the scalp but do nothing for any eggs, so my mom repeated the treatment every 3 or 4 days for a couple of weeks.
posted by srrh at 9:15 PM on March 15, 2010

The permethrin-resistance is not a rumor--they were first discovered in the U.S. more than 10 years ago and now I believe that most lice in the U.S. are resistant. What this means is that the over-the-counter shampoos are pretty much useless, and the best way to get rid of them is to comb every day, or nearly so, for about three weeks, which is how you can interrupt the life cycle. Even before resistance, the shampoo never killed the eggs, and though there are some products that claim to kill the eggs, the best way is still to just comb them out. You can comb out live lice too (mayonnaise tends to slow them down and make them easier to get). But eventually the old lice are finished reproducing, they die, then if you have effectively removed any eggs they hatched, you don't get any new live lice to hatch new eggs.

Please don't be irritated by your co-worker bringing her kid to work and/or not using the shampoo. You are at no more risk of getting lice from her child sitting in your chair than you are sharing a head rest on a public transit bus, and the idea that kids need to be kept out of school for lice is outdated.

That said, I understand your worries. I am not a fan of those little bugs and do everything I can to prevent them, which includes things like not sharing hairbrushes or hats or hairties EVER, but does not include getting too freaked out when I'm near a child (or adult) that I know has them.
posted by gubenuj at 11:31 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a mother who's had to deal with head lice and documented it here, I have to say, what a rude coworker you have! Good grief, you don't take kids sent home with head critters straight to the office. You go straight to the store and get an electric comb and a plain lice comb and put in you and your kid's favorite movie. The electric combs are wonderful for breaking the life cycle. Thing is that the schools (at least in our area) diagnose by seeing nits and/or live critters. The electric comb takes care of the live ones, but the nits have to be removed before the school lets them back in. That's the time-consuming part.

While I do basically agree with most of what gubenuj said, I'm just appalled that she brought the kid straight to your office, let her sit in your chair, and then was all "ha ha" about it. It isn't the end of the world, but it isn't something you just plonk down in your coworkers' chair and expect them to giggle with you about.

The shampoos don't work all that great, frankly. Most bugs seem to be resistant these days, and the shampoo's main ingredient is derived from ragweed. The suggestion of running the lice comb through hair with conditioner does work very well. The side benefit is that your hair will be very glossy afterward. But, you have to make sure to go from the root to the tip over all areas. The mayo treatment will leave your hair nice and soft, but tends to get stinky and gross and is hard to wash out and is time consuming.

I feel for you if you have automatic itchies. I have them right now, even over the internet. You're probably ok, really , but damn, the rudeness is what gets me. I'd talk to HR, honestly. You took off time from work because your coworker brought her kid in with head lice? How does she think that's ok? Did anyone else complain? Was there some reason the kid was parked in your chair? As a Mom who's been let go from a job from one too many kid illnesses (I was a single mom at the time and the final straw was when they came back from dad's with pinkeye and couldn't go to the sitter; some of the other absences were due to head lice, but I stayed home and dealt with it), she should know the score. You NEVER do that to your coworkers, even if it's an option to park your sick kids on a blanket in the corner. Never, unless the kid is in the non-contagious recovery stage.

Please MeMail me if you want lice control tips, because I finally beat those little bastards years ago, and it's pretty simple once you know the life cycle. Don't fret about your laundry, but don't sit in that chair tomorrow if you can help it.

I'm more curious about why your coworker thought it was ok to do that to your office and everyone there. /grump
posted by lilywing13 at 2:21 AM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Doubt it. Go to a doc to check it out and tell your HR about the incident. I agree with lilywing, she's rude and a moron for bringing her infected kid to work to spread it around (happily). What a jerk.
posted by stormpooper at 6:33 AM on March 16, 2010

Response by poster: To clarify, I'm not upset or mad at the mom; I just don't want lice. I don't think she should have brought her kid in, but I'll just tell her that the next time I see her. I'm a doctoral student, and we all share an office with seven desks. It's a communal space -- no one has assigned desks, and I'm not required to be there, so it's not like I missed work, I just went back home to work.
posted by k8lin at 7:30 AM on March 16, 2010

I once babysat for my science teacher in high school. Her kid had lice and no one knew until after I had been over. I was infected. I was 16 years old and it was the first time I had lice...it was HORRIBLE. The teacher offered to buy me shampoo to get it removed. I tried it, didn't work. Tried it again, didn't work. I came home from school everyday for a month and combed out my hair, crying. Didn't work. As others have said, the shampoo was completely worthless. I ended up doing research for alternative solutions and bought a product online. This was 10 years ago so I can't find it but I basically slept with some kind of oil on my scalp for two weeks which apparently made it impossible for lice eggs to survive upon and washed my hair out with dish soap every morning. Three weeks later it was over.

I wish for you to not have it but I didn't have all that much contact with the kid that I babysat for and I was definitely exposed. Good luck, I'll look around more for whatever I used and email you if I find it.

Anytime anyone talks about lice I swear to you I have an itchy scalp for days.
posted by janelikes at 5:45 PM on March 16, 2010

Response by poster: Didn't get lice; was worried for nothing. Thanks for everyone's advice.
posted by k8lin at 12:20 PM on April 15, 2010

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