Travel Trouble

Mon, 13 Aug, 2018Basmah Qazi

In case you’re itching to know: Head lice may be living on your plane headrest

In case you’re itching to know: Head lice may be living on your plane headrest

Travelling on long-haul flights can already be an uncomfortable experience with minimal legroom, annoying passengers and terrible tasting food. So, with experts now having added head lice to that mix makes things even worse.

Consultant dermatologist with the British Skin Foundation, Dr Sharon Wong told The Sun that there is a possibility that passengers could contract head lice from plane headrests because of the period they have spent away from human contact.

“Head lice don’t fly or jump as they are wingless,” she said.

“Most commonly they infect another person via close contact and survive by blood fed from the scalp. However, they can survive off the human host for up to 48 hours.

“So, within that timeframe, lice and eggs that have dropped off the hair shaft or hair strands that are infested with lice can potentially be cross transferred to another person by objects such as pillows, hairbrushes … and headrests.”

With each airline having different cleaning schedules, it can be hard to say how often headrest covers are replaced. Flight attendants who have commented on online forums have said while headrests are regularly cleaned, they are very rarely changed, especially if it is a short haul flight.

However, Dr Tess McPherson, a dermatologist with the British Association of Dermatologists, says the chance of an in-flight infestation is “incredibly low".

“They are unlikely to jump off heads onto seats, as they like warm places, and in any case will only survive a short time and quite quickly become less lively or mobile when not on a human head,” Dr McPherson said.

But if you’re still paranoid about the thought of head lice, pharmacist Shamir Patel says keeping head lice sprays in your luggage will reduce the chances of an infestation.

“Some short-haul planes are performing four or five flights every single day, and if the seat comes into contact with a passenger with head lice, it’s very probable that some of the bugs could linger in the headrest,” he said.

“I’d urge families not to fly if they know either themselves or their children have a head lice infestation, in order to protect other passengers.

“Meanwhile there are good preventative, pre-emptive sprays and shampoos available which can stop head lice infesting you in the first place.

“Look for products that contain the ingredients cyclomethicone and isopropyl myristate – which kill the lice by essentially dissolving the outer coating of their shell and dehydrating them to death.”