HeadLice.Org Hot Spots

Parents urged to take up combs,
take care with shampoos

Experts say only a hands-on approach will solve the
stubborn problem of head lice


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, Altschuler said.

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 $9.95 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.

© St. Petersburg Times


-- send this page to a friend --

The National Pediculosis Association,® Inc.
A Non-Profit Organization
Serving The Public Since 1983.

The National Pediculosis Association is a non-profit, tax exempt
organization that receives no government or agency funding.
Contributions are tax-deductible under the 501c(3) status.

© 1997-2009 The National Pediculosis Association®, Inc. All images © 1997-2009 The National Pediculosis Association®, Inc.