By Michelle Miller
St. Petersburg Times
August 15, 1999
Warning to readers: Prepare to itch!
While parents are making their back-to-school
preparations -- taking kids to the stores for new clothes,
shoes and school supplies -- they should think about
making a trip closer to home, say through the strands of
their children's hair, where they might just spot some
nasty critters hiding out.
In an effort to get a handle on what
seems to be a resistant head lice problem, the National
Pediculosis Association is calling for a "Back to
School All Out Comb Out."
While many schools conduct head checks
on a regular basis, the NPA is telling parents that they
should keep an eye out for the creepy crawlers and their
nits (eggs) before school starts.
That advice is echoed strongly by the
Pasco County school system, said Marilyn Koop, registered
nurse and supervisor of health student services. "We
need to get parents involved because we need more man
power," Koop said. "The school can't do it
without the assistance of the parents. They should be
regularly checking their children's hair."
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound
of pain, said NPA president Deborah Altschuler. Parents
who have a handle on the louse situation ahead of time
might have a better chance of getting through the school
year without having to pull their kids from school until
they're parasite free or investing in and exposing their
children to shampoos containing what the NPA deems
potentially harmful and sometimes ineffective pesticides.
"We know that the chemical
approach without thorough nit removal isn't working,"
said Altschuler, who founded the NPA in 1983 after
dealing with resistant lice infestation with her own
children. The organization, a non-profit health education
agency based in Massachusetts, has a mission to protect
children and their families from the misuse and abuse of
potentially harmful lice and scabies pesticide treatments.
Over the years, Altschuler has heard
all the horror stories: from parents who have severely
burned their children using kerosene (an ineffective and
obviously dangerous treatment) to those who have
improperly and continuously used pesticide shampoos. She
decided to look for alternative treatments after her
children's pediatrician repeatedly prescribed a shampoo
containing lindane. "This stuff is chlorinated
benzene," Altschuler said. "I went nuts."
Benzene, a colorless liquid hydrocarbon,
is carcinogenic and highly flammable. Shampoos containing
lindane can only be obtained with a doctor's prescription
and come with a warning to consumers that neurotoxicity
-- damage to nerves or nerve tissues -- is a possible
side effect. The FDA advises that lindane only be used as
a last resort. But even with that restriction it could
pose a danger to children who already have been exposed
to every over-the-counter pesticide shampoo available,
The NPA stresses that parents should be
on the offensive and willing to roll up their sleeves
when it comes to lice and nit removal. "None of this
is complicated. This is traditional communicable disease
control; sometimes the best defense we have is early
detection," said Altschuler, who touts the NPA's LiceMeister® comb as
the best preventive measure. "When the kids shower
at night, someone combs their hair. We're just telling
them to comb it with an effective tool."
The comb, which can be purchased for
through the NPA, is a wonderful investment, Koop said.
"Response from our parents is that it cuts the
combing time and that it's the only comb that was able to
get the eggs out."
The LiceMeister® also comes
highly recommended by Lidia Serrano, a former school
nurse and owner of Lice Source Services in Plantation.
Serrano and her team of nurses see a steady stream of
customers willing to pay $85 for a two-hour session to
have their children deloused.
"When parents come here, they're
usually at their wit's end," said Serrano, who also
works with the local schools as well as researchers at
the University of Miami and University of Massachusetts
who are studying lice resistance.
Serrano said she uses only natural
products to kill the bugs before she gets into the nit-picking
process. "Parents have to realize that the eggs have
to be removed manually; nothing out there is going to
kill the eggs. It's time consuming, but it really has to
be done," Serrano said.
Koop said she has fielded her share of
phone calls from desperate and sometimes angry parents
who want the schools to fix the problem. But schools don't
get lice, people do, she says.
"It isn't realistic to spray a
school with pesticides because, first of all, the sprays
are very toxic. We have kids with allergies and asthma
who could be at risk," Koop said. "Besides, the
building is empty on Friday afternoons until Monday
morning, and the experts tell us that lice cannot live
off a host, cannot survive without human blood for 24 to
48 hours, so the school is in effect fumigated (every
weekend) because the school is empty."
"Kids with a continuous head lice
problem are staying infested, not getting reinfested,"
Altschuler said. "Their parents aren't getting all
the nits out. It just makes sense -- if you want to get
rid of the chickens you better be stomping on the eggs.
Koop said she is relying on education
to tackle the lice problem in Pasco schools. Last year,
she met with a committee to set procedure and give
parents the latest information in an easy-to-read
brochure that includes helpful hints from the NPA.
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