“The Deceptive Dozen”: The National Pediculosis Association Offers 12 Important Tips to Help Parents Avoid Misleading Information on Head Lice
Twelve of the most commonly made statements about head lice that mislead parents, require fact-checking and put child health and wellness at unnecessary risk.
The National Pediculosis Association (NPA) team has compiled a list of red flags to watch out for when seeking information on lice treatment and prevention. The “Deceptive Dozen” list includes some of the most commonly made statements that mislead parents, require fact-checking and put child health and wellness at unnecessary risk. Parents need to be aware of these questionable directives in order to avoid confusion and potentially harmful responses to head lice.
The Deceptive Dozen:
1. Ads, articles or products that claim head lice are a nuisance and not a health hazard for children.
The treatment for head lice is the hazard when it involves pesticides. Pesticide treatments create a unique situation where both the person applying the treatment and the person being treated are at risk. Parents should be wary of vague directives requiring that a person only needs to “be treated.” Recommendations for treatment should include warnings of health risks associated with pesticide use and the availability of combing and manual removal as a safe alternative. (See http://www.headlice.org/downloads/whynochem.pdf)
2. Assurances that head lice do not carry disease.
Pediculosis is the medical term for an infestation of lice. It is itself an infectious disease. Head lice are parasites specific to humans and require blood meals to survive. They have been associated with bacterial infections including impetigo and rickettsial diseases. (See http://www.headlice.org/news/research/index.htm ).
3. Assertions that head lice are not a hygiene issue.
To put it bluntly: Head lice are communicable human parasites that require blood for feeding, infest one’s hair and scalp, defecate, mate, and literally glue their eggs (nits) to hair to hatch new lice. This makes head lice a compelling hygiene issue for the people who have them. A chronic case of pediculosis challenges a person’s health and wellness.
“Nitwashing” is the use of deceptive lice product marketing language — a ploy used to promote the idea of a product’s effectiveness and superiority. “Nitwashing” emphasizes an ability to repel or kill lice and nits with misleading promises that nit removal is too difficult for parents or that use of the product renders nit removal unimportant and unnecessary. It is wise to be skeptical of marketers using “nitwashing” in product claims and advertising.
5. Labeling or claims that a lice treatment product is preventive, natural, non-toxic or not a pesticide.
The word “natural” has become a meaningless buzz word used to imply safety. A chemical product designed to repel or kill lice and nits is still a pesticide, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. (See: http://www.epa.gov/kidshometour/pest.htm ). This is true regardless of its ingredients. The assurances of preventive or non-toxicity requires independent scientific scrutiny and substantiation. Be cautious. http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2014/05/company-settles-ftc-charges-head-lice-prevention-claims-were
6. Failure to offer the alternative of combing, especially for those most vulnerable to the adverse effects of chemicals.
The FDA acknowledges combing as a non-chemical treatment option for managing head lice via screening, detecting and thoroughly removing lice and nits. Combing is a critical research tool used by product manufacturers. When combing is ignored or belittled as an effective option for parents; that’s a red flag! For some individuals, including pregnant women, nursing mothers and children with cancer, asthma or allergies, a non-chemical approach is critical. This group also includes children who have earlier been treated with pesticides for lice. http://www.headlice.org/downloads/whynonchem.pdf
7. Name-dropping: references to nationally known non-profit organizations or academic institutions to prove a point.
Parents report sometimes feeling intimidated when they try to voice their concerns about school policy on head lice. The names of non-profit organizations and academic institutions shouldn’t be misconstrued as endorsements, consensus, or mandates by these groups. Name-dropping can undermine essential fact-checking, open communication and the community cooperation needed to control a communicable disease.
For instance, the media and even local and state head lice policies will at times imply Harvard University’s support of their position. Such references are unfortunate misrepresentations, since Harvard University neither holds nor endorses any official national policy or recommendation for schools concerning head lice management.
8. Ads, products, claims or articles by “experts.”
The “expert’s” qualifications can be deceptive because their professional focus may be too narrow. Look for conflicts of interest. Pediculosis expertise requires a broad educational background in various scientific disciplines, especially public health toxicology, environmental health, and medical ethics.
9. Use of ‘no nit policy’ as a generic term for all policies.
Be aware that “no nit policies” vary from school to school. Some policies strictly exclude children with nits from the classroom. Others, consistent with NPA’s recommendation, proactively educate the community and empower parents to routinely screen, detect lice and nits early and deliver children to school free of lice and nits. http://www.headlice.org/downloads/nonitpolicy.htm
10. Products, ads, or information insisting that parents need professional help or medical training in order to care for a child with head lice.
We are unable to find a scientific basis to substantiate the assertion that parents need such professional help. Not every family can afford to pay for services and many families are comfortable dealing with head lice on their own. Pediculosis can be well managed by informed parents empowered with accurate information and proper combing tools. Lice and nit removal service providers can play a beneficial role for families who choose to seek assistance. (Be aware that such services are most often without regulatory government oversight. Choosing a service requires parental attentiveness and caution.)
11. Ads, products or stories identifying chemical-resistant lice as “super lice”:
“Super lice” is a misleading and unnecessarily scary term often used to refer to chemical-resistant lice. The term conjures up an image of invincible bugs, making parents feel desperate or powerless to deal with them. Further, the FDA does not require warnings to consumers that a product may be less effective than claimed due to chemical resistance in lice. Without warning or knowledge of combing as a non-chemical alternative, parents resort to applying multiple pesticidal products in search of an effective remedy. This increases health risks. http://www.headlice.org/special/alert.htm
12. Ads, product information, or media articles which state that “parents can’t accurately identify lice or are too impatient to deal with the problem.”
Parents are known to welcome education on this issue as part of a community approach. Most parents are able to control head lice in their families without lost class time or risky chemicals. For the child whose family is unable to take responsibility, for whatever reason, the school health system can be prepared to go the extra mile with sensitivity and safety to ensure the child is able to return to their group lice and nit free. NPA’s experience has been that most parents do best in managing head lice when they are afforded accurate information and respectful guidance. The reward is an environment of mutual assurance that everyone is doing the best that they can for the health of their children and their community.
The NPA hopes parents will find the “Deceptive Dozen” helpful in making better informed decisions about head lice and what is written about them. For more information you can visit http://www.headlice.org.
About The National Pediculosis Association:
The National Pediculosis Association®, Inc. (NPA), established in 1983, is a 501 c 3 non-profit volunteer organization, including scientific advisors dedicated to protecting children and their environment from the misuse and abuse of prescription and over-the-counter pesticide treatments for lice and scabies. Proceeds from the NPA’s LiceMeister® comb allow the NPA to be self-sustaining and accomplish its mission. The NPA is the official sponsor of National Pediculosis Prevention Month kicked off each September to last the whole year long. CombFirst! 2014-2015 will be the NPA’s 29th annual campaign.