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NPA Press Release

Lice Sprays for Children's Bedding... an Unnecessary Evil

Responding to Newseek’s recent report on the decline of children’s health, the National Pediculosis Association (NPA) warns against the use of lice sprays marketed for children’s bedding. The NPA calls attention to lice sprays as an easily avoided, unnecessary risk to family health and safety.

The cover of the September 22, 2003 issue of Newsweek Magazine shows a little boy with an apple in his hand and the tag line “Your Child’s Health and Safety,” the latest on allergies and asthma, childhood depression, sleep, stress and more.

The magazine documents staggering and increasing numbers of children with asthma, and visits to the emergency room. It quotes Dr. Marc Rothenberg, director of allergy and immunology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital who said, “It’s not just that more kids have allergies,” but the fact that “the severity of those allergies has also increased.”

Newsweek’s report on declining children’s health was the subject of a recent staff meeting at the National Pediculosis Association, (NPA) with everyone finding the Newsweek statistics alarming, unfortunately not surprising, and indicative of too many chemicals in a child’s life.

Ted Schettler, MD, Gina Solomon, MD, MPH, et al in their book, Generations at Risk, report that people not only assume that their physicians are able to diagnose and treat environmentally related conditions, but they also assume that government agencies are protecting them from environmental hazards.

The book’s authors claim that government oversight of consumer products and other industrial chemicals is generally poor. They tell the reader “the result is human exposure to untested or poorly tested materials for economic and political reasons.”

The list of potentially toxic exposures for children is daunting. Chemical agents are often researched as though they are the only chemical risk that occurs. Some appear even scientifically acceptable when studied one at a time.

Such standards deny the realities of the world in which we live and the seemingly endless number of chemical exposures that add up fast for an individual child's body.

Pesticides are only one example. There are undoubtedly situations where the benefit of pesticides may outweigh the risks, but there are too many other situations when pesticides have become an unnecessary evil.

At the basic level, most of the chemical agents sold for treating head lice are not sufficiently effective either because they never were, or because the lice have developed resistance to them. These are pesticide risks without benefits.

The NPA was incorporated in 1983 as a nonprofit organization to protect children from the misuse and abuse of pesticides marketed for treating pediculosis, the medical term for head lice infestation.

NPA's mission is also its mantra: “We can’t remove every potentially harmful exposure from a child’s life, making it imperative that we remove those that we can.”

September marked the 19th annual Head Lice Prevention Campaign, which reached out to everyone to avoid over-the-counter and prescription pesticides such as lindane or malathion, by instead focusing efforts on education in advance of outbreaks, routine screening, early detection and manual removal of all lice and nits.

The NPA says enormous strides have been made, but potentially harmful products remain on the drug store shelves.

Just about every OTC pesticide shampoo brand offers an environmental lice spray.

RID,the biggest selling brand name has a can of spray carrying the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The product’s active ingredient is listed as permethrin, a pesticide already associated with asthma and to which head lice are known to be resistant.

Major drug chains also carry their own private label lice sprays for bedding. The Walgreens' brand touts its spray as having residual activity that “controls pests for up to four weeks.”

The prominence of lice sprays on the shelf sends a message to the consumer that they are necessary!

Lice sprays are reportedly inexpensive to produce and therefore very profitable. Frantic consumers are known to purchase several cans at a time figuring one won't be enough for all the bedding, furniture and rooms in the house.

It is unlikely that the physicians who think of head lice as a nuisance, rather than an infectious disease, would fathom that a child with asthma, breathing or sleeping difficulties might have been shampooed with pesticides and tucked in at night to sleep on a mattress and pillow sprayed with a pesticide.

Although the information on spray labels advise those with asthma or severe allergies to “consult their doctor before using this product and have someone else apply this product,” there is no warning for the kids with asthma or allergies, whose beds will be sprayed.

There is however an ironic general directive to “keep out of reach of children.”

There are also no warnings for mothers such as the one from Minnesota who called the NPA on September 16th tearfully pleading for help after she had used several of the lice shampoos without success.

She also bought several cans of the environmental sprays and sprayed all of the bedding and furniture in her home. This is a mother of 4, the youngest of which is a nursing infant. There were no warnings for her.

The National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, (NCAMP) says there is no safe way for a nursing mother to apply or spray pesticides, let alone protect her baby from the environment or very real possibility of contaminated breast milk.

There is however a safe alternative with the simple use of the household vacuum. Head lice require human blood and are human parasites as opposed to environmental pests.

They are primarily transmitted by person-to-person contact, and while particular areas, such as the couch where the kids gather to watch television, may lend themselves to helping lice make their way from one human host to another, it is best to vacuum, not spray!

Vacuuming is effective, realistic, practical, safe and a readily available action to take for areas such as furniture, bedding, car seats, stuffed animals, etc. Vacuuming also eliminates the outdated labor-intensive "bagging" of such items. Clothing and bed linen can be washed.


  • The harmful effects of pediculicide sprays (including eye and respiratory risks) apply not only to the children but also to the parent doing the spraying and to household pets.

  • Young children, the most susceptible age group to head lice, often have mothers who may be pregnant or nursing: the sprays come with no warnings for the even higher risk group - infants, unborn babies, or others with pre-existing medical problems living in the home.

  • Lice sprays are marketed to be used “in concert” with lice shampoos, and therefore significantly increase the insecticide exposures without any regard for combined effects, cumulative absorption or safety.

  • Lice sprays for bedding and furniture are unique in that they are regulated by the EPA but packaged with FDA regulated pesticide shampoos and lotions.

  • Pediculicidal sprays have ingredients that become more toxic in their vaporized state.

  • The ineffectiveness of lice sprays is documented in scientific studies of lice resistance to permethrin and cross-resistance to other pesticides found in the most widely available treatment products.

  • Schools that spray pesticides for lice add risks for their student population given that parents are often not informed of the school spraying and repeat similar actions within the home.

  • Cumulative risks also occur when schools and other institutions spray for other pests such as ticks, mosquitoes and roaches.

  • Selling pesticide sprays for children’s bedding risks children’s health and exploits their parents and their pocketbooks at a time of high anxiety. The more conscientious the unwarned parents, the more likely it is that they will spray everything in the house.

Lice sprays can affect everyone but especially the vulnerable childhood population to which Newsweek dedicated its September 22, 2003 issue.

These are the same children the NPA has brought attention to through Jesse’s Project, -- children already suffering with more asthma, more cancer, more allergies, more epilepsy, more learning problems and more illness in general.

Ours is a strange society where we are now required to post signs on lawns after they have been treated with pesticides to be sure children do not play there ...while pesticide sprays continue to be sold for children's beds.

This news release is part of the National Head Lice Prevention Campaign in support of Jesse’s Project and the Boss Louse educational video, sponsored by the National Pediculosis Association, a non profit organization.

The NPA also has a National Reporting Registry for those who think the use of treatments for head lice may have been associated with an adverse reaction.

Other Press Releases From The NPA


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