Natural Disasters, Shelters and Head Lice

When natural disasters strike, evacuation centers open. One unintentional consequence of creating these temporary shelters for people forced from their homes is an increased spread of head lice.

Hurricane Irma “had lice,” one observer told WFTS News in Tampa Bay, Florida, as lice outbreaks became common in shelters throughout the state. “Any time you have all those people together” you’re likely to see head lice infestations spread. Kids huddle with parents, and there tends to be more sharing of clothing and personal care items like brushes and hair accessories.

It’s just human nature to share during times of crisis, and sometimes that results in sharing head lice.

With disasters occurring through the United States, from Puerto Rico to Florida to Houston to California’s wine country, hundreds of thousands of people have been fleeing to shelters, creating what has been called a head lice “crisis” in some instances.

How do you avoid lice if you’re in such a situation?  Remember that lice spread primarily through head-to-head contact. They can only survive on humans, and they cling tightly to hair. They can spread through shared clothing or hair products when a strand of hair with a louse on it falls off a person and sticks to a hat, brush, scarf, or other item. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following steps to prevent the spread of head lice.

  • Teach children to avoid head-to-head contact during play and other activities at home, school, and elsewhere (sports activities, playgrounds, slumber parties, and camps).
  • Teach children not to share clothing and supplies, such as hats, scarves, helmets, sports uniforms, towels, combs, brushes, bandanas, hair ties, and headphones.
  • Disinfest combs and brushes used by a person with head lice by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5–10 minutes.
  • Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets, or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with a person with head lice.
  • Clean items that have been in contact with the head of a person with lice in the 48 hours before treatment. Machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens, and other items using hot water (130°F) and a high heat drying cycle. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag and stored for two weeks.
  • Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the person with lice sat or lay. Head lice survive less than one day if they fall off the scalp and cannot feed.
  • Do not use insecticide sprays or fogs; they are not necessary to control head lice and can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
  • After finishing treatment with lice medication, check everyone in your family for lice after one week. If live lice are found, contact your health care professional.

It is also advisable for anyone with long hair to keep his or her hair pulled back tightly. There are also new lice prevention products, like the Lice Preventer Kit, a convenient all-in-one solution that includes a non-toxic gel that repels lice, and an applicator that makes it easy to comb into the hair. Used as directed once per week, it is guaranteed to prevent head lice infestations.

The Lice Preventer Kit is a product of Lice Clinics of America, the same company that introduced the AirAllé medical device to the world of lice treatment. The AirAllé device is a first-of-its-kind product that uses warm air to dehydrate lice and eggs (nits). It’s been cleared by the FDA after clinical trials showed it killed live lice and more than 99 percent of eggs.

Treatment using AirAllé is available at more than 300 Lice Clinics of America treatment centers in 34 countries. For more information about Lice Clinics of America, the AirAllé medical device, and the Lice Preventer Kit, visit

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