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Lice Legends

Posted on September 1, 2011 at 4:35 PM

Jennie Deskins didn't think something so tiny could create such huge worries until she found lice in her daughter's hair.


“I felt terrible. I thought I must be the dirtiest person and I felt like a horrible mother,” says the Santee mother of three. “I thought people would think I didn't take care of my children, and I thought my daughter would lose all of her friends.”


When Sherry Teague of Point Loma was told that her twin daughters had to leave camp because they had head lice, she says her concern was “the huge hassle and ordeal of cleaning and washing everything in the house every single day.”


The mothers' fears were unfounded. Both got their children treated at a lice removal service — Deskins used Temecula-based Nit Picky... — which not only got rid of the parasites, but also corrected a lot of misinformation.


“When parents come in they're usually a little frantic, sometimes a little embarrassed, especially if this is the first time they've encountered head lice,” says Claudia Alvarez, manager of Hair Fairies. “Part of the problem is that many of them have been given wrong information and (believe) myths about lice. One of our main jobs is to dispel those myths and explain how lice work.”


An estimated 6 million to 12 million children in the United States have infestations of head lice every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. With a problem this prevalent, it's imperative that parents, teachers and children understand the facts, so infestations can be avoided or more successfully treated.


The following are some common myths about head lice.


Myth : Lice carry disease and can make you sick


Truth : Lice are mostly just a nuisance.


“Lice are a pain in the neck or an itch in the head. They're not a life-threatening problem for most patients,” says Dr. Sheila Friedlander, pediatric dermatologist at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. “Lice aren't like other bugs that give the plague and other diseases. But, they can give you itching and social stigma and induce a tremendous amount of anxiety in parents and patients.”


Myth : A child with head lice needs to be seen by a pediatrician immediately .


Truth : An office visit usually isn't necessary. For the average case of head lice, most doctors recommend patients use an over-the-counter treatment containing pyrethrin (Rid), a natural chrysanthemum abstract, or permethrin (Nix), the synthetic form. Along with these chemical treatments, removing the nits (eggs) manually with a fine-toothed metal comb is also recommended. The treatments need to be repeated in nine or 10 days.


If the over-the-counter treatments fail to work, then a visit to the pediatrician may be necessary to get a prescription treatment. For these persistent cases, Friedlander often prescribes a malathion treatment, which kills the bugs as well as the nits.


An increasingly popular option is to be treated by a professional lice-removal service. Local companies such as ... Nit Picky, which offers home service and {salon}, treat clients (mostly children) with nontoxic enzyme solution and then manually remove nits from the hair. Guarantees may be offered if all household members are screened for lice by the service and then treated if an infestation is found...

Myth : A nit (eggs) in the hair always means lice infestation .


Truth : Just because you find nits in the hair, it doesn't mean you have live bugs, especially if the nits are a few inches away from the scalp, Friedlander says. Nits farther down the hair strand are very old nits or egg casings that no longer contain live eggs. These old nits mean there probably was an infestation at one time. But if the nit sits close to the scalp, then probably there are live eggs.


Myth : Pesticides are the only effective way to rid a person of a head-lice infestation .


Truth : Many pesticides are losing their effectiveness because lice have built up a resistance to the chemicals commonly used.


A new benzyl alcohol lotion (Ulesfia), which kills head lice by asphyxiation, is available by prescription. It does not contain a neurotoxic chemical, so lice are less likely to develop a resistance to it.


Some natural treatments may be effective. Tea-tree oils have shown some success, and one study showed that Cetaphil, a mild face-wash lotion available in drugstores, works by smothering the lice.


“A lot of people like the natural products, because the lice can't develop a resistance to them and because they're not chemicals in the usual sense of the word,” Friedlander says.


Most of the lice-removal services use no pesticides to kill lice. Technicians apply a cream containing an enzyme that breaks down the glue that holds the nit to the hair strand. Then they comb through client's hair to pick out the nits and live organisms.


Myth : Home remedies are the safest head-lice treatment.


Truth : Some home treatments are not only ineffective, but also very dangerous. Never use gasoline or kerosene to treat lice. Both are extremely flammable and can ignite from the heat of the hair dryer or a spark from a light switch.


Forget the dog flea shampoos and ointments. These are too concentrated and not made for humans. Don't use malathion from a home-and-garden store, which is very risky for human use. If needed, your physician will write a prescription for a much safer form. Mayonnaise, olive oil and Vaseline won't do much except to create a sloppy, greasy mess that's hard to remove. They do nothing to affect eggs or newly hatched nymphs.


Myth : If your child has a head-lice infestation, a complete cleaning and sanitizing of the house is necessary.


Truth : Head lice have nothing to do with cleanliness or housekeeping.


“Don't go crazy cleaning everything in your house if your child has lice. Washing the sheets and pillow cases and pajamas (of the infested person) is enough,” Friedlander says. “Don't treat the dogs and cats, because they don't play a role in transmission. Environmental sprays are not helpful, either.”


Myth : Head-lice infestation only occurs in lower socioeconomic populations .


Truth: “It's not about money or cleanliness,” Friedlander says. “Lice come from close contact with other people. Harvard graduates get them and so do presidents of companies. The only association between lower socioeconomics and lice is that people in lower socioeconomic areas may live in closer quarters.”



“School-age children are simply in closer contact with each other. They don't have the personal space limits that adults do,” she says.


Myth : A child with head lice means a child with poor hygiene.


Truth : Head lice have no preference for dirty hair or clean hair, a grimy face or a scrubbed one. You can get a lice infestation even if you bathe and shampoo several times a day. You'll just have cleaner lice.


Myth : Lice can be picked up from a sofa, car seat or carpet.


Truth : Lice cannot fly or jump and often only survive a day or two off their human hosts. Most lice are transferred through head-to-head contact in activities such as wrestling, hugging or sleeping head-to-head in the same bed.


Don't worry that you'll pick up lice if you quickly brush heads with someone. Your head usually needs to be in contact with someone else's for at least 30 seconds for a louse to move from one head to another.


Myth : To avoid panic and embarrassment, keep your child's lice infestation quiet.


Truth : It's important to notify your child's school, day care or camp and the parents of your child's playmates, so that other children can be checked and treated. Otherwise, your child may get re-infested.



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