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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Cumulative risks also occur when schools and other
institutions spray for other pests such as ticks, mosquitoes
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.
Press Releases From The NPA