Last year’s back-to-school Cool or Crummy “Got Lice” article was so popular that we thought we’d revisit the topic again this year — chiefly because the American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a new policy paper on the critters that seems to have everyone in an uproar.
The paper (found at http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;110/3/638), reiterates the AAP’s position that, because lice do not carry disease and pose no health threat, children should not be excluded from school if they have them.
The paper prompted the Austin Independent School District to change its no-nits policy effective immediately: children found to have lice no longer will be sent home from school, and they will be allowed back to class the day after they’ve been treated.
This change in policy has unleashed a bit of an outcry from parents, who worry that lice will spread like wildfire.
uess what? They already do.
Policies that discriminate against kids with head lice don’t really do much to quell infestations, Dr. Cynthia Devore, the chair-elect of the AAP’s Council of School Health, told us.
In fact, by the time your child starts scratching her scalp, she’s probably had the buggers living on her head for quite some time.
“In actuality, it takes a good four to eight weeks for a child to develop sensitivity to the louse that’s biting them,” Dr. Devore says. “So they could be infested and walking around with lice and not know it.”
Which is why most school infestations don’t tend to materialize until mid-October to early-November: kids often pick-up lice at camp during the Summer, don’t realize they have it, and then track it to school and pass it along to their friends, who then start scratching around Halloween.
So how do you know whether your child has lice? Chances are, you won’t see the bugs themselves: they tend to scurry away from prying fingers. But you can see their eggs, also known as nits, which look like tiny white or yellowish teardrops attached to individual hair strands roughly one centimeter from the scalp (nits that are attached more than ½ inch away from the scalp are dead or have already hatched). You can tell the difference between a nit and, say, dandruff because the nit is glued to the hair and won’t budge unless you use your fingernail to pull it off. When scouring for lice, it helps to have your child sit under a very bright light, or in the sunshine, or use a lighted magnifying glass.
Once you have a confirmed case, the big question is: how do I get the dratted pests off of my kid’s head? ASAP!
For that, we turned to Adie Horowitz, owner of Licenders in New York City, a salon whose sole service is getting lice out of kids’ (and parents’) hair. Although Licenders makes its own natural products for use in its salon, Ms. Horowitz says lots of other products work well, also. The one thing she’s adamant about is that parents do not need to use pesticides to get rid of lice.
“Instead of trying to kill them from within, which is what poisons do, just remove them,” she says. “Forget that it’s a louse; pretend it’s an ant. Just get rid of it.”
To that end, she recommends using products that slow down or smother the lice so that you can easily comb them out of the hair. Olive oil works well for this purpose: put a small amount in the hair each night — “You don’t need a lot, just a little; the bug can’t grip on greasy hair,” she advises — and then comb out the hair to remove the bugs in the morning, followed by a quick shampoo.
The AAP’s policy paper also lists many different treatment options, including natural therapies. The key, however, is treating multiple times during the lice’s 21-day life cycle! The AAP recommends treating on Day 1 (when you discover the infestation) and again on Day 9. During this time, and for at least another week or so afterward, you should continue checking your child’s scalp for nits and adult lice — and continue combing to remove those nits! You’ll know the bugs are gone for good when the number of nits you pull from the hair decreases each day until you have none. If you pull four nits from the hair for a few days, then suddenly that number shoots up to 10 or more —especially if those nits are clustered in one section of the scalp— you should assume you have an active bug on the head and begin the treatment all over again.
As for cleaning the house: don’t go crazy. There’s no need to scour, bleach and drive yourself nuts. Wash (and dry on high heat for 20-minutes) only those things that came into contact with your child’s head; also vacuum any furniture or carseats that may have touched the head. Remember: Head lice cannot live longer than two days off of the head (they need a blood meal about every 48-hours — yum!).
We asked readers of our eNewsletter to weigh-in on lice treatments that worked for them. Below are their COOL suggestions. For more suggestions, as well as CRUMMY items we suggest you avoid, please visit http://parentwiseaustin.com/Archive/2009-09/Got-Lice.
COOL LICE TREATMENTS
Available at The Herb Bar, 200 W. Mary, 444-6251
$26 (4 treatments)
Twila, the owner of the The Herb Bar, has been blending up this up this concoction for 15-years and readers absolutely swear by it. Made from a mixture of lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus and tea tree essential oils, you add Good Riddance to olive oil, massage it onto the head, leave it on for two hours, and then comb it out with a lice comb. A few drops of the product also can be added to shampoos to deter lice. Speaking of shampoos, Twila recommends using coconut-based shampoos because they act as a deterrent to lice.
$20 (shampoo)- $120 (lice eradication kit)
Formulated by a chemist, this shampoo is completely natural, containing peppermint extract and enzymes that break down the shell of the louse. The shampoo is exceptionally silky, allowing for easy combing through the hair to remove dead bugs and nits. Although the shampoo says it works “the first time”, we recommend continuous combing throughout the life cycle and perhaps a second treatment on day 9.
After five bouts with head lice —one of which occurred on a European vacation!— Tester Mama Cindi was ready to shave everyone’s head and call it quits. Then she discovered this stuff, which is a three-part system: a glue dissolver to remove the nits; a lice-killing shampoo; and a lice repellant (the system also comes with a special metal comb). All of the products are natural, made with a combination of eight essential oils in a base of olive oil and fractioned coconut oil. The company offers a 100% money-back guarantee if the products do not work for you.
$8.50 for 33.8 fl. Oz.
Cindy Cobia, the district nurse for the Manor School District, suggested this inexpensive and non-toxic treatment that she says works “better than anything I have ever tried.” Have your child lay on his back with a towel under his head. Then, saturate his head using 8 oz of Listerine (be careful not to get it into the eyes). Wrap the child’s head in the towel and leave the Listerine on for 10 minutes. Once the time is up, begin combing out the hair using a very fine (preferably metal) lice comb until all lice and nits have been removed (adding a small amount of conditioner to the hair can make this process easier). When you are all done, wash the hair with Sawn soap, Suave shampoo or a baby shampoo and blow dry the hair. Blow drying the hair is key, because lice cannot stand the heat.
Oregano, lavender, anise seed and cinnamon leaf essential oils
Can be found at natural food stores
The website http://eHow.com lists a variety of essential oils that can be combined and placed on the head to kill lice. The “best” mixture seems to be some combination of the above, poured into in jojoba oil and then slathered onto the head. They key to this treatment, really, is constant combing to remove lice and nits. Be aware that some essential oils can cause irritation!
Adie Horowitz of Licenders offered this tip: When combing out the hair with your product of choice and a fine-toothed lice comb, dip the comb in baking soda before each pass through the hair. The baking soda “catches” nits and nymphs that might otherwise slip through the tines of the comb.
For more suggestions —including Lice B Gone, the Robi Comb, Lice MD, and how to use olive oil, mayonnaise, and tea tree oil — read our September 2009 Cool or Crummy: The Lice Edition article online at http://parentwiseaustin.com/Archive/2009-09/Got-Lice.