Battling Lice, Post-Disaster, by Aden Tate

Throughout history, one of the most consistent problems that has faced soldiers, refugees, and homeless populations is lice. Read through the journals of soldiers throughout WW1 and WW2, and you’ll see countless references to lice. During the 1970s lice infestations (technically called pediculosis) reached pandemic levels. That was attributed to increases in poverty, sexual promiscuity, and international travel. Typically, social upheaval is where we find the greatest number of lice infestations. It is interesting to note that poverty and sexual promiscuity can probably be pretty safely correlated with social upheaval.

Living life without all of the modern amenities seems to predispose someone to ending up with an infestation. But that’s where the problem lies, doesn’t it? As a prepper, you do everything you can to make sure that your family has a proper level of disaster-security so that should anything happen, your family will be prepared. You have already accepted the possibility that civilization may be a veneer, that bad things can happen, and that bad things could even happen to you. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to have an underground warehouse fully stocked with every potentially scarce good for every possible disaster scenario, but it does mean that increasing your knowledge base on at least the basics of disaster survival is a wise idea.

So, with that being said, what can you do should those bad things happen, should there be a breakdown in society, should you end up homeless, bugging out, or whatever, and you/somebody you love ends up with lice?

It doesn’t even have to be somebody you love. If a Katrina-level hurricane levels your community, how long will it take for somebody infested in your church’s shelter to spread the infestation? I’m not really sure if there are set numbers out there for that, but I’m pretty positive you wouldn’t want to experiment to find out at that point in time. And I’m not necessarily advocating  the exclusion of anybody infested with lice from receiving your care and attention. What I am advocating is that you understand what you are getting yourself into when you create that exposure, and that you have something of a game plan developed to mitigate your risk in this scenario.

About Lice

Before we delve further into treatment, it’s helpful to know a bit about the life cycle of lice. A typical lice egg can remain viable away from a host for around 30 days, and will hatch within 7-10 days. After that point, the little guy hatches and you have a newborn lice bug. There are three main types of lice: body lice, head lice, and crab lice–what are commonly called just “crabs”.

Body lice infest, you guessed it, your body. They like to live among the skin, and will even hide in clothing and bed sheets, coming out from their comfortable hiding places to feed. They are typically transmitted through contact with an infested person, or via infested objects (e.g. sheets, sleeping bags, coats, etc.).

Head lice infest the hair of the scalp, and are transmitted via head-to-head contact or by using items that have touched infested peoples’ hair (e.g. hats, scarves, pillowcases, brushes, towels)

And lastly, crab lice live amongst pubic hair. They are typically spread via sexual contact.

Body lice can typically live about a week without feeding. Head and crab lice live around 2 days without feeding. So even if the infested person has been removed from the scene, what they came into contact with can still transmit an infestation for a few days afterwards.

Why Do Lice Matter?

That’s kind of a stupid statement isn’t it? Why do lice matter? “After all, they’ll only make you itch a little bit, and that’s about it.” If you believe that, then unfortunately, you’re wrong.

Yes, lice will make you itch, but it will most certainly be more than a little bit. That heavy scratching to find relief can soon lead to skin abrasions which in turn can lead to infections as well. It doesn’t take much for an opening in the skin to quickly grow infected when you’re in a survival situation, as any Vietnam vet will tell you. And infections in those types of environments can quickly prove fatal.

But the most important reason that preventing lice infestations matters is because they can and do transmit deadly diseases. Trench fever and typhus, to be specific.

Trench fever epidemics occurred throughout Europe during both WW1 and WW2. It can lead to headache, malaise, shin pain, and dizziness. It’s typically nonfatal, but it most certainly is not pleasant.

Typhus is a different story, however. It’s a bit more bloodthirsty. Headache, chills, malaise, fever, and general pains are the initial symptoms. A macular eruption typically appears next, which will soon spread to the majority of the body. Cough, confusion, drowsiness, coma, seizures, and hearing loss can follow soon afterwards. Typhus wards were known as a terrifying place not too long ago, due to the delirium of the patients inside. The case-fatality rate is between 10%-to-40%, in the absence of treatment.

Let’s see what we can do

We’re going to assume that you’re in a disaster situation here without ready access to the typical medical treatments. How would you treat lice in a TEOTWAWKI scenario?

To start with, a fine-toothed louse comb is a good way to systematically weed those little suckers out of your hair. You can pick them up pretty inexpensively online (because who wants to buy lice treatment in store? “Hello pastor! How are you?”). There are some excellent head lice treatments that can be found on Amazon as well.

Taking a shower is good, but even after you take a shower, those little fellas can still infest your clothes or sheets, so you have to ensure that those have been cleared as well. Laundering with 131 degree+ Fahrenheit water for 20 minutes is considered long enough to kill lice hiding in clothing. Dry tumbling of clothes on a hot cycle is recommended as well.

Residual insecticide such as can be applied to clothing as well for an added layer of protection, and sprays such as Lice Defense can be used to treat backpacks, furniture, etc. to prevent spreading of infestations as well.

If you have qualms about using harsher chemicals around your home and on your body, then there are a number of more organic treatments available online as well such as Head Hunters and Lice Shield.

Perchance none of the above methods are available to you (e.g. bugging out and on the move), then storing clothing in plastic bags for two weeks will rid the clothes of lice as well.  The lice won’t have contact with a food source, and will subsequently starve as a result.

Incorporating Lice Care in a post-disaster scenario

Let’s say that disaster has happened. You can imagine it’s a locally devastating hurricane that’s cut your community off from outside assistance, an EMP terrorist attack, or the outbreak of war while you’re on a missions trip in Africa. Whatever. The point is that things are pretty bad, and they show no sign of improving anytime in the near future. There’s going to be an increasing number of mobile refugees constantly on the move in the search for food, shelter, medical care, safety, and just something better.

You and a group of neighbors/fellow church members/friends have organized into a group in a relatively safe place with something of a source of supplies set aside. For whatever reason, you’re willing to take in fellow survivors. Sure, you could exclude anybody with pediculosis from joining your camp, but if you do decide to take in an infested person, what can you do to minimize the risk of their spreading infestation?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Sleeping bags separated and not in contact with each other.
  • No sharing of sleeping materials (sheets/covers/pillows/blankets/sleeping bags/etc.)
  • No sharing of any articles of clothing, combs, or brushes
  • Avoiding bodily contact between each other (hugging/handshaking/jostling/etc.)
  • Shower and lice-killing washing of all clothing articles upon entering the camp the first time
  • Designated chairs
  • Avoiding physical contact with outside survivors
  • Treating any found/purchased clothing and other potentially infested items before using them
Wrapping it up

Controlling lice infestations before they reach epidemic proportions is very important post-disaster. Thankfully though, there are a number of steps that can be taken now to mitigate your risk in the future. Improving your knowledge on the subject is one of the primary things that you can do now, and I trust that you’ve found this article insightful.

For more information on lice and lice-borne diseases, I highly recommend the book The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl by Arthur Allen. It’ll show you just how scary typhus can be.

  • Porth C, Matfin G. Pathophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States (8th ed.) 1580-1581
  • Heymann D. Control of Communicable Diseases Manual (2nd ed.) pp. 447-448; p. 621; p. 621
About The Author

Aden Tate is the author of  The Faithful Prepper: A Christian’s Perspective on Prepping, published by Prepper Press in July, 2019. You can also follow his work at



  1. I’m not sure this is true,but I remember learning this in the past.
    The British tradition of wearing a powdered wig stemed from lice.They shaved their head,and only the rich/elite could afford to buy hair and have custom wigs made.

    1. There is an African daisy that is a natural source of pyrethrin, you can get a packet of seeds for about $2. Supposedly also helpful against fleas. Rinse well tho.
      I think the whole flower stalks could be laid under pet beds, in pillows, mattresses, closets, etc and not be too toxic.

      I think any source of fat/oil is what smothers the nuts, which is why you see mayonnaise, petroleum jelly, and petroleum products listed. So, probably any source of oil, grease, fat, would probably work. Crisco is shelf stable and terrible for your health, better to use it for a purpose like this. Leave it on a day or two in a shower cap (improvise if necessary), let the grease saturate and smother them. In the 1800s, men slicked their hair back with bear grease for a formal look, native Americans treated their hair with different greases and fats, you get the idea.

      I always knew people to use cedar fronds to fight fleas and moths, lice probably wouldn’t like it either. It’s possible to boil up cedar boughs to extract the oil, I bet it would be good against lice. Maybe some of the other evergreens too, who knows.

      A simple lice comb can be enough to get rid of them, in combination with treating all the linens, mattresses, furniture seams, etc. Will need to work on each other frequently with the combs. Order a dozen or more, they’ll be cheap but invaluable to have. They will last for years while topical solutions etc are dependent to how much you have on hand. Razors too, and people shouldn’t use them up in routine grooming, they are valuable in such a situation. Waxing and sugaring are ancient hair removal methods that can be done if you have sugar or wax and some strips of cloth. If someone keeps bringing crabs in, maybe a full removal of all their hair down there through one of these methods would stop the current infestation and also serve as a painful lesson to stop letting one person’s hedonism cause health risks and problems for many.

      Diatomaceous earth dusted into seams, cracks, etc will help. Powder the dried pyrethrin daisy and add it to the DE dust.

      If you don’t have the time, energy, alternate arrangements, etc then just leave all the affected materials shut up in a room for a few days. They can only survive a couple days that way. You can ruin wool, leather, fur, etc in the process of trying to clean it if you don’t know EXACTLY what you’re doing, and in shtf doing 8 loads of laundry on the spot immediately in hot water by hand could be impossible. People used to do one load a week on a woodstove or over open fire outside, and it took all day and a lot of energy. Also too attention-getting and people likely to walk off with your stuff if you do it outside. Hanging sheets etc to dry outside probably not possible, too visible from a distance. Probably best to treat the person with whatever hair method you have (oil, grease, mayo, shave it, etc) and put them in hospitality gear (spare clothes, guest pallet to sleep, quarantine of minimal touch / arms length) for at least 2 days while isolating all their stuff (backpack, clothes, etc) for at least two days in a safe place (locked locker, etc) – make sure all their gear doesn’t get stolen while in quarantine. Things like shoes, jackets, socks, etc can be hot ticket items that will walk off if not under lock and key.

      In hot area, it could be possible to solar heat water to a high enough degree. I know someone in the islands who runs a b&b and is able to wash all their guest bed linens, whites, dog beds, etc with nothing but cached rainwater heated to near-boiling by nothing but the sun.

      Not sure, but it seems like they wouldn’t like strong UV rays if it would be possible to hang things in strong sun if they weren’t at risk of theft etc (even from animals – deer, porcupines, etc are attracted to the salt of sweat on clothes, boots, etc). They probably wouldn’t like a hard freeze either, nor being left hanging in a hot metal shed on a 90* day for a couple days, maybe with an open can of turpentine in there fuming up the space.

  2. NIX shampoo is 1% permethrin. Good to know that if you have a bottle of permethrin for treatment of camping clothes, you could mix up some lice treatment too.

  3. We went through 18 months of what I now call “Floods and Pestilence” when my kids were in grade and high scool. Five times my kids got lice, and no… the school wouldn’t do a thing. Needless to say, we became experts at getting rid of the little critters.

    (My daughter and I both have TONS of thick long hair…. over four hours of nit-pickiing per head!)

    In the end, I got permethrin concentrate and added it to our shampoo. And I did head inspections on any kid that wanted to come in the house, much to their disgust.

    But, it worked!

    During this time our house flooded three times due to a badly installed french drain. You really learn who your friends are when you start calling people at 2AM asking for pumps and help! *smile*

  4. While I was helping in an orphanage in Mexico many years ago we had a child enter who had huge running sores infected from rampant head lice. You really don’t want to let them alone. I have heard that diatimatious earth will repel bed bugs. An aunt of mine said that ironing the seams of clothing killed body lice. Since chemicals might be hard to get it would be wise to seek out alternative treatments. Also stocking up on lice killing products wouldn’t be a bad idea
    They would probably be very barterable.

  5. The best way to rid your kids of lice is not the store bought products, those are merely poisons you put on your kids head…..over and over. Stock up on mayonnaise, small jars of like Hellman’s (I don’t have stock in this brand, lol!, but I know it works). Lice have become resistant to all the insecticide products for many years. Here in Texas lice in schools is a real problem. and kids can catch them several times. Years ago I worked in the school system for a few years, I saw some children who literally had lice for most of their life! It never seemed to bother some parents, they would not put in the effort to take care of their children (and not just about the lice). What you need to do is cover (use almost the whole jar) the head with the mayonnaise, and then cover head with a shower cap, leave on for 24 hours. I know this sounds gross, it’s best to do this on a weekend, but I have had this work for so many people, where the repeated use of poisons does not. Lice are like roaches now, pretty indestructible! While you have the lice infected person going through the treatment, wash all linens and infected areas several times with hot soapy water. Bag up all stuffed animals and other potentially infected items in garbage bags, seal tightly and leave bagged for 2 months! Wash hair after 24 hours, and keep up daily with using the lice combs to remove eggs (eggs that are usually about 1″ out from scalp are usually already dead). Using mayonnaise smothers the lice, that’s why make sure their hair has plenty of mayo on head and all hair. The mayo rinses out fairly easy. If this fails, petroleum jelly used the same way I have never seen fail, only will not wash out easily, it takes several weeks and many washes to get it out, but these two methods will kill lice and save your loved ones from potentially cancer causing poisons repeatedly used. This last statement is the most important: If one family member has lice ALL family members must be treated at the same time!!

  6. Thanks for the comments on recommended alternative treatments (Mayo and petroleum jelly. Permethrin may be available from plants, assuming your can do the extraction (online search…).

  7. Great topic, even if it gives me the willies more than performing an appendectomy by candle light! This is truly one aspect of preparedness I have not considered until now. The suggestions for the permethrin-based clothing treatment, and the non-toxic mayo or petroleum jelly treatments are good advice.

  8. Lice was one reason we started homeschooling. What we found works though, is to cut the hair short, use tea tree oil shampoo daily if lice are around, ( the smell repels the lice so they are not so likely to infest to start with ), use an over the counter tea tree oil treatment, change the bed sheets and pillowcases daily and wash with some eucalyptus oil in the wash water, and put soft toys etc in the freezer for a day from time to time.

  9. Had a bad infestation on my kids and ex-wife. Tried everything and could not kill the little buggers. Finally had to get some shower caps and rubbing alcohol. Soaked everyone’s hair and put them up in the shower caps for 15 minutes. Killed even the eggs. All the girls used tea tree oil shampoo and we washed everything in the house in hot water and hot dryer. Have not had an issue since.

  10. Know your pain! Cousins kids got the little critters at school. My cousin tried so many cure suggestions that didn’t work she was about to go bonkers and broke! Ran across a product called Clear Lice, all natural with a lot of great reviews and told her to check it out. They also have a follow on product to make sure they don’t come back. She did and was impressed so she tried it. It worked and she said she is forever grateful to me. Told her no big deal, all I did was a little research, and was glad it worked. She said she is now spreading the word. Apparently the little buggers are super tough to get rid of. Glad I never had to experience what so many others have gone thru.

  11. Wash head with kerosene. Done. After petroleum products are no longer available, I would want to try to distill turpentine and try that, but I have no actual experience with it..

  12. Please do not use kerosene or turpentine on your skin, especially on children!! Turpentine can be especially dangerous with people with asthma or other respiratory problems.

  13. If your family gets head lice its time to cut hair!
    The women can go with a shorter style and us men can shave our head.
    Works everytime!

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