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Thursday, May 17, 2001      

Some tips if you suspect head lice

Q. My son's family has been battling head lice for over a month. Any suggestions?

N.A., Miami

A. Are they sure it's head lice? It wouldn't be the first time that natural hair debris (dandruff, for example) has been mistaken for nits (louse eggs).

Call the tollfree help line, 1-800-446-4672, of the National Pediculosis Association (NPA) in Newton, Mass. Its staff can help you over the phone and will mail you information, including a picture of nits, adult lice and the normal stuff found on the scalp that gets mistaken for nits.

The information, including the picture, is also on its website, under FAQs.

The most effective way to control head lice is through frequent and thorough inspections of children's hair under a bright light or in sunlight.

If you spot a nit, comb it out with a good nit comb. NPA recommends the LiceMeister, which retails for around $10 and is carried by some pharmacies. It can also be ordered by calling toll free 1-888-542-3634. The LiceMeister, unlike some other nit combs, can withstand boiling water.

The NPA doesn't recommend chemical pesticides.

``Chasing lice with chemicals has failed,'' says Executive Director Deborah Altschuler. None are 100 percent effective and Altschuler considers some, particularly those containing Lindane, extremely toxic.

Head lice are transmitted from head to head and can spread rapidly through a preschool or elementary school.

Children pass them on to their parents, who may unwittingly pass them back to their kids or on to other people.

``We're all vulnerable,'' Altschuler says.

Lice have nothing to do with cleanliness.

Head lice are human parasites and feed on human blood. They don't live on pets, and the adult louse can't survive off a human head for very long.

You only need to vacuum your furniture to pick up stray hairs that may have a nit attached.

It's not necessary to bag anything, or to spray it with chemicals, which Altschuler likens to ``an elephant gun in regard to the risk.''

If you do find nits, the head they were found on needs to be checked every day.

If you go for a week without finding anything, you may be home free. Even so, check periodically. It's easy to miss one or two and that's all it takes to keep the infestation going.

If it's easier to check hair when it's wet, that's fine. Sometimes an application of conditioner makes it easier to comb through thick, curly hair while you're hunting for the lousy critters.

Action Line on Health solves problems, gets answers, cuts red tape and stands up for your rights. Write: Action Line, The Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132, or call 305-376-3000 or 954-463-0404.


Copyright 2001 Miami Herald


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