Head Lice


Parents of school age children
need to know how to battle hardy head lice.

An itchy scalp does not mean you have lice - dandruff and eczema can cause that, too - and not itching does not mean you don't have lice, either.  Lice Solutions says, "Itching is an allergic reaction to the saliva of lice, and only about 50% of people get that; but all you have to do is mention lice, and everyone itches!" 

Head lice have no desire to leave a food supply once they have found it, which is why they encamp happily on our heads, multiplying without notice until there are enough of them to cause symptoms, which can include an itchy scalp, a crawling sensation, swollen lymph nodes, or pink eye.   (The American Academy of Dermatology)

Lice don't have wings; they can't fly or jump.  What they do have are claws designed specifically to hold onto human hair.  When separated from their source of food - our blood - lice can only live about a day.  When we recommend washing bedding and stuffed animals after an infestation, it's more about other gross stuff (think excrement) than lingering lice.  (Nancy Fields, co-founder of Lice Happens, a lice-treatment business)

A mature louse (head lice) lives about 3 weeks, and is normally about the size of a sesame seed; a nymph is about the size of a pinhead. 

Head lice are simply a nuisance that can cause itching and discomfort.  A home's cleanliness has nothing to do with having lice.  Lice crawl from one head in close contact with another, or hitch a ride on a hairbrush or comb. 

Lice are adapting, and are becoming harder to kill.  In some cases, lice are laying abnormally small nits, which makes them even harder to detect.  In at least 25 states they have developed resistance to permethrin, an ingredient used in many over-the-counter treatments designed to kill lice.  (American Chemical Society 2015 study) 

(Sources:  American Chemical Society 2015 study; CDC; Claire McCarthy, Boston pediatrician; Dr. Albert Yan, chief of pediatric dermatology at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Katie Shepherd, Lice Solutions, a nonprofit education and removal salon based in Florida, and its research arm, The Shepherd Institution;  Nancy Fields, co-founder of Lice Happens, a lice-treatment business; Beware the Itch, Jennifer Graham, Deseret News, September 11, 2016)


Statistics
  • Girls between the ages of 9 to 16 are most likely to have head lice.  That is because by this age, girls are taking care of their own hair, so parents can't spot any sign of a problem until there is an infestation.  Lice have been found on a 9-day old infant, and a woman who was 98.  One-third of mothers who have a child with lice end up getting them also.   (CDC, 2016)

What You Can Do

To reduce the risk of your child coming home from school with head lice...
  • Buy a lice comb, and you will always catch a case of head lice before it has a chance to escalate or spread.  A lice comb should be on the school-supply list of every school in the country.  Katie Shepherd recommends families get professional help, because lice can spread so quickly and are so hard to see. 

    If parents do try home treatments, it's important to keep rechecking the scalp even after they think they have killed all the lice.  "Don't let your guard down; keep looking.  The life cycle of a louse is 3 weeks.  If they keep looking and keep combing, they will eventually get past it; but if they let their guard down, there will be a re-infestation, and they will have to keep starting over.  If there's one case in the family there's at least two."  

    To reduce the risk, children with long hair should keep it tied back, which reduces the chance of spreading.  (Lice tend to enter at the nape of the neck.)  And teach children to never share combs, brushes or hair clasps.  (Katie Shepherd, founder of Lice Solutions)

  • Parents can look for lice in their children's heads with a "wet screening" - using a metal-tooth lice comb to run through the hair after a shower, and then wiping it off on a white napkin or paper towel.  White flakes of dandruff will disappear, while the brown and tan nymphs and lice will show up.  On the head, lice tend to reflect the color of the hair, which is why they are difficult to spot.  (Nancy Fields)

  • Buy a good comb, and get ready for some quality time together.  I don't understand why anyone would put pesticides on their children's head.  (Claire McCarthy, Boston pediatrician)

  • For parents who don't have time, there are prescription drugs that promise results in l or 2 days without combing.  Dr. Albert Yan, chief of pediatric dermatology at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, will prescribe some of these agents, but he recommends that families first try an over-the-counter treatment for l or 2 weeks. "While expensive, the newer agents don't appear to be any more toxic (to the lice) than existing OTC products. 
Additional Resources
Lice Removal Services:

A Lice Things to Do, LLC

3609 S. Long Lane
Spokane, WA
(509) 714-3123
Joan Berkowitz goes to the home of those infected with head lice to treat them.  She charges $75 per hour and provides free rechecking after treating head lice.  Although many boys get treated, girls trend to be more vulnerable to head lice.  Girls are more huggy, tend to have more sleepovers than boys, and are sharing pillows. 

Joan says head lice are beginning to develop a stronger immunity to the typical over-the-counter treatments available to the general public.  Most lice treatment products contain strong pesticides that are absorbed through the scalp and never released.  Joan encourages parents to watch for FDA warning labels and to seek alternative treatment options when possible.

LiceDoctors
(509) 570-1433

Lutey's Hair Angels
Trisha Lutey
417 W. 26th Avenue
Spokane, WA  99203
(509) 928-9386
A professional hairstylist who makes house calls to families stressed out about head lice.  Trisha gives lice advice saying, "The first thing I do is calm a parent down, and give them some education over the phone. I tell them as far as bedding or clothes, you don’t need to wash it. Just throw it in the dryer for 10 to 20 minutes on high; extreme heat kills live lice and if there are nits [lice eggs], they’ll die without contact to a human head. If there are stuffed animals on the bed, put them aside in a bag for 24 to 48 hours, and vacuum the house thoroughly.”