Head lice is the unwelcome visitor no parent wants to see coming home with a child.
Although lice sightings seem to spike up at the start of school in South Florida’s warm weather, every season is lice season, said Katie Shepherd, executive director of Lice Solutions Resource Network, a nonprofit treatment and research facility in West Palm Beach.
In Miami-Dade and Broward schools, children are sent home if lice or lice eggs, called nits, are found in their hair. Children can return to school after they are lice- and nit-free.
Experts say being proactive is important because preventive measures can help your child avoid an infestation.
Head lice are transmitted by head-to-head contact. They do not jump or fly, and they cannot live off of the head for more than 24 hours. Lice eggs, or nits, are teardrop-shaped and tiny, about the size of a knot in the hair. They are cemented in place with a secreted glue. If you pass your fingers over a spot in the hair and it doesn’t move, it’s likely a nit.
"Head lice are an equal opportunity parasite. Anyone, at any age, can get head lice," said Shirley Gordon, director of the Head Lice Treatment and Prevention Project at Florida Atlantic University. "Having head lice does not mean children are dirty or poorly cared for" - lice prefer clean heads.
There are a few tips parents can follow to be pro-active, Shepherd said:
• Use mint spray on hair. A peppermint-scented spray has a 92-95 percent success rate in repelling lice. "The smell is pleasant to us, offensive to bugs," Shepherd said.
• Get a nit comb.
• Do a weekly comb-out. Have your child wash and condition her hair. Detangle, then comb through with a nit comb. The hot spots are the nape of the neck and behind the ears, crown and bang area. Comb, then wipe on a white paper towel. Bugs will move around, and nits will look like tadpoles – an egg with a tail of glue on the end.
• Have children wear hair pulled back. Braid it if it’s long. Since lice are transferred by head-to-head contact, this makes it slightly harder for bugs to get to a head. Don’t worry about putting gel in hair; it’s not a deterrent, she said.
• Don’t worry so much about your child sharing hairbrushes, hats and headphones. "Less than 2 percent of the cases come from sharing items," Shepherd said. "But if it makes you feel better, send your own headphones to school."
• Have children take their own pillows to sleepovers.
Treatment involves a combination of a lice-killing shampoo and manual nit removal using a fine-toothed nit comb. After treatment, the hair should be checked every two to three days for nits. Lice eggs take a week or more to hatch, so the hair often has to be retreated seven to nine days after the initial treatment.
"Many parents spend their energy inappropriately cleaning the home," Gordon said. "Head lice do not infest the home. Parents should focus their attention on treating their children and removing head lice and nits from the hair."
Shepherd, author of Lice Advice: The Shepherd Method of Strand by Strand Nit Removal, said the real solution is knowledge. "What to look for, and using the right tools" are what matters," she said. "There’s no miracle product. It doesn’t exist."
Lice clinics, such as Lice Solutions, Lice Cleanique and in-home services such as LouseCalls, Miami Lice Busters and Family Lice Center, treat lice and remove nits for a fee ranging from $100 to $200.
"Parents are capable of successfully treating head lice on their own. However, head lice treatment centers can be very helpful if parents are unsure if their children have an active infestation, have never treated their children for head lice, are not sure where to start or if their family is experiencing persistent infestations," Gordon said.
When parents are shopping for over-the-counter products, they should remember that how the product is used and how well nits are removed determine success, Shepherd said. Rid and Nix are FDA-approved, but they are pesticides, and there are resistance issues from bugs, she said.
Pesticide-free options include Lice Cure, Licefreee!, Ginesis Nit Free, Babo and LiceLogic. X-PEL is a good product for self-treatment, Shepherd said, because it strips the hair of
oils and makes hair easier to work with.
Natroba, approved by the FDA in 2011, is a prescription product that looks promising, Shepherd said. Another new FDA-approved product, Sklice, is scheduled to hit the market later this year.
Don’t use kerosene, gas, pet shampoo or malathion from a garden store. They are dangerous, Gordon said. Home remedies, such as mayonnaise and petroleum jelly, are hard to remove and have not been clinically proven to kill lice, she said.
Finally, don’t be embarrassed to tell, Shepherd said. Notify your child’s playmates so they can be checked and treated, or your child may get it back.
LICE REMOVAL SERVICESLouseCalls: Treats lice in your home with non-toxic products; same-day service available. Offers free educational programs for schools. Covers Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties. Fee: $100-$155 per head. 561-376-1066; www.lousecalls.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lice Solutions Resource Network: A West Palm Beach-based non-profit research and treatment facility that offers head checks, group screening, non-toxic products and information; services offered on a sliding-scale by income, from $50 to $160 for a two-hour treatment, family screening and recheck. Free treatment for indigent families. 561-842-9969; visit www.licesolutions.org.
Lice Source Services: Research and treatment facilities based in Plantation, with Lice Cleanique locations in Delray Beach and Miami. 954-791-0711; www.licesource.com or www.licecleanique.com.
Miami Lice Busters: Treats lice in your home with olive oil and plastic caps. Services are $100-$200, depending upon hair length and thickness, with no time limit. 786-282-7414 or 786
Family Lice Removal: Treats lice in your home with natural products. Fees average $150 per head for a one- to two-hour treatment. 877-LICE-911; www.liceservice.com.