12 Unexpected Ways You Can Get Head Lice

Updated: Oct. 06, 2020

You know that lice can spread quickly—but do you know how and where? Here are the actual ways the tiny parasites travel from person to person.

Multi Generation Family Enjoying Meal In Garden Together
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Attending a family reunion

Family get-togethers are wonderful, but they are also a great excuse for relatives to squeeze together for a family photo. “Almost all head lice infestations happen from direct, head-to-head contact, which gives lice the opportunity to transfer from one head to another,” says Krista Lauer, MD, at Lice Clinics of America. If you’re posing for a photo next to cousin Alice, who is unknowingly infected with lice, chances are that now you are, too. Here are some suggested products to help get rid of head lice.

nterracial group of kids playing at the park
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Going to summer camp

Summer camp fosters incredible memories that most attendees cherish for the rest of their lives. However, in the short term, it’s the perfect breeding ground for the spread of head lice. “Living in close quarters and having lots of intimate contact—hugging and sharing bunks, crowding around a flashlight listening to ghost stories—all provide the opportunity for direct head-to-head contact, allowing lice to move from one head to another,” says Dr. Lauer. Check out the 7 signs your child has lice.

Teenage girls brushing teeth
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Having sleepover parties

Another of the great joys of childhood is attending sleepover parties. “I loved these because we could eat junk food and stay up into the wee hours of the morning watching movies, talking, and giggling,” says Dr. Lauer. “But whenever heads are together in this way, there is the opportunity to share more than just a fun night away from home.” It’s best to do a head check after each sleepover to make sure your child didn’t catch anything. Find out how many of these 14 pro lice-fighting tips you know.

Cheerful young couple embracing in restaurant


Because lice only require head-to-head contact in order to spread, all it takes is one hug to transfer the parasite from one person to the other. In fact, it only takes three seconds for a louse to go from one person to another, according to Lara Nicol, owner of the Lice Raiders in Jupiter, Florida. “Hair is often touching during a hug, which gives head lice the perfect opportunity to transfer to a new host.”

Group of mixed-race girls looking at a smartphone in a restaurant.
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Wearing your hair down

If you have long hair that you frequently wear down, there’s more opportunity for it to come into contact with others. “While head lice can live on very short hair—even stubble—there is a greater chance of one person’s hair touching another if the hair is long,” says Dr. Lauer. “Lice may take this opportunity to transfer, and they can move fast.” She recommends wearing your hair tied back in a braid or a bun to reduce the potential for this contact and the transfer of head lice.

Group of smiling friends taking selfie with mobile phone. Multiracial man and women enjoying themselves outdoors and taking pictures with smart phone.
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Taking selfies

We all love a good selfie, especially with a close friend—but if that close friend happens to have head lice, you’re probably going to get it, too. “This direct, head-to-head contact is the perfect opportunity for head lice to transfer from one head to another,” says Dr. Lauer. “However, keep in mind that head lice are not dangerous, and an infestation is an indicator of being social and having friends, nothing more.” Find out more about this risk of taking selfies with friends.

Boy and girl sitting in living room playing video game together

Playing video games

Children love to play video games; Nicol points out that children often play video games so close to each other that their heads will actually touch. “It happens more often than we notice,” she says. “When heads touch, lice are able to spread.”

Family Sitting On Sofa In Open Plan Lounge Watching Television
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Watching a movie or TV together

Unfortunately, even the innocent act of relaxing with loved ones on the couch could transmit lice if one of you is infested. “Head-to-head contact happens more often than you realize—even while watching a movie!” says Nicol. Try some of these 14 home remedies for eradicating lice.

Basketball players forming a huddle in the court

Playing on a sports team

While it seems harmless—not to mention beneficial for social life and fitness—playing on a team could increase a person’s chances of getting lice. “Many sports participate in team huddles, during which heads are close enough together to be touching,” says Nicol. “Huddles are an ideal opportunity for head lice to transfer from team member to team member.”

Two young friend sitting in the tent, play the guitar and sing songs


Sleeping in tents with others means sharing close quarters and, sometimes, even head-touching. In addition, as Christopher Harrison, MD, physician of infectious diseases at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, points out, the seams in tents or sleeping bags are places for lice to hide (although they don’t live too long without a host to feed on). Learn about the 11 ways you think you can get lice but can’t.

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Hiking in groups, especially trips that involve staying in hiking shelters, could increase your chances of getting head lice, according to Dr. Harrison. “Shelters along well-established trails could become infested, since the hikers who sleep in a given shelter rotate each day,” he says.

Excited music fans up the front at a music festival

Going to concerts

Concerts are a fun time to let your hair down and have a good time, but they also make for the perfect jumping-off point for lice. “Concerts include being in close contact with lots of people,” says Nicol. “And close contact includes head-to-head and/or hair-to-hair contact, which is how lice are spread.” Read about the 13 myths about head lice that just won’t disappear.