You know the routine: your child, or a child in the class, is sent home with lice. Thus begins the battle at school and home to get rid of the icky creatures. Schools become defensive; parents wash everything in sight.
Well—good news! Research now shows that some of those time-consuming, expensive methods may not be necessary.
First, schools can stop shouldering the blame. Lice is spread more often during playdates and sleepovers rather than in the classroom. The real transfer occurs when two heads touch. The belief that lice can be spread when children share hats, clothing, or even car seats has been exaggerated.
Second, it may be prudent to wash pillow cases, bedding, combs, and not share personal items, but extensive house cleaning is no longer recommended. Lice need blood to live, so placing infested clothing, toys, and other items in a corner and not going near them for 48 hours will kill the bugs.
New research may push schools to abandon those blanket lice checks which cost money and embarrassment. Harvard Public Health Entomologist Richard Pollack estimates misdiagnosis by health professionals and lice pickers at around 60 percent. He says that most of what is sent to his lab turns out to be lint, food, or other debris, not lice.
What is effective? Experts recommend applying a cream rinse then wet combing with a metal lice comb. (See directions below). Look at the paper to see what comes out! According to Pollack, wet combing is four times more effective than the caustic shampoo that is advertised to kill lice. While many of these shampoos might kill the adult louse, they might not kill the nits.
A parent needs to check a child’s head once a week to catch the lice early on without waiting for the school’s periodic checks. If a parent does find lice or nits using the wet comb method, that daily comb out should continue for at least two weeks. The louse’s life cycle is 30 days long and if the combing is not done for two weeks, or until no lice are combed out, the lice will continue to thrive on a child’s head. A normal infestation is 12 lice and each lice couple may produce up to a 100 eggs!
A major hurdle in dealing with lice is changing the phobia that exists among school administrators, teachers, parents, and students. Schools need to challenge the misinformation handed out by companies that produce products that purport to get rid of lice.
My one experience with lice left me overwhelmed both physically and emotionally. If I had known then what I know now, I might have saved myself aggravation and money. Lice are a nuisance but not a health hazard or disease carrier. Eventually, this, too, will pass.
Persistence (every night for two weeks if none is found, once a week for maintenance
Patience (put on a video for you and your child)
Knowledge (see persistence and the WebMD web site about lice)
A Good Metal Nit Comb (not plastic)
A Bottle of Inexpensive Olive Oil (Pantene cream rinse and or baking soda)
Manual Nit Picking
Plastic Garbage Bag
Clothes Dryer, Washer (hot water), /top shelf of the Dishwasher for combs, brushes
Rinse the hair with a mixture of a conditioner (Pantene is recommended) and baking soda). The conditioner helps to detangle the hair making it easy to comb while the baking soda makes the bugs more visible.
Divide the child’s hair into four sections and use clips or pins to hold three sections out of the way.
Start combing one section at a time, using a metal lice comb to separate hair, about one quarter inch at a time, looking for nits or live lice. A metal flea comb from the pet shop works well, too. Don’t be hesitant to pick the lice out.
Nits that are found within one quarter of an inch from the scalp usually are alive and treatment is needed. Have the scissors ready in case you need to cut out a nit.
Wipe the comb on a paper towel after each stroke and examine the towel for lice or the oval nits. See what you removed and clean the comb so not to reapply the lice or nits.
If nits or lice are found, continue combing until no more are located; repeat the whole process daily for two weeks or until no lice or nits are removed.
Please contact your child’s physician or ask the school nurse if you need more information.
Check for lice and nits weekly while your child is in school or at camp. However, remember that sleepovers and playdates are more frequently the source.
Mary Ellen Ostrander is a school nurse in Brooklyn.