This following article was prompted by a chance discussion with the local Playcentre co-ordinator about how local parents are coping with head lice. Apparently not very well as some have resorted to extreme measures, using products like as Spot-On and Ivermectrin, on their children.
These are broad-spectrum antiparasitic products designed to kill internal and external parasites on animals. They are considered neurotoxins, likely to be absorbed into the body. Obviously, some of the things people do in an attempt to get rid of lice can be much more harmful than the lice themselves.
Our health nurse’s attitude is that Western society is insect phobic.”Having headlice is not a serious medical condition, but it does carry a lot of misinformation and outdated attitudes that can cause parents to overreact”. Hopefully, the more we know the better we deal with it.
What are head lice?
The head louse, (Pediculus humanus capitis), is a parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes of people. Head lice feed on human blood several times a day and live close to the human scalp. They have three forms: the egg (also called a nit), the nymph, and the adult.
- Head lice have been around for a long time and most communities learn to live with them.
- Head lice are not known to spread disease but they can be annoying because they may cause itching and loss of sleep.
- Head-to-head contact with an already infested person is the most common way to get head lice.
- Head lice move by crawling; they cannot hop, fly or jump from person to person.
- Head lice and their eggs (nits) soon perish if separated from their human host. Because they need food, humidity and warmth to survive it is unlikely they will be found alive on car seats, curtains or carpets. clothing or personal items such as combs, brushes or towels.
- No approved treatment will kill all the unhatched eggs.
- Head lice cannot swim. They can survive under water for several hours but are unlikely to be spread by the water in a swimming pool.
- Anyone can get head lice. It is not related to poor personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home. Headlice feed on blood, not dirt.
- Children do not get headlice from dogs, cats, and other animals.
It is difficult to prevent head lice infestation in children. Community-wide or school-based programmes informing parents of methods to eradicate lice are the most effective ways to keep infestation rates down. Parents need to take responsibility for this as it has been shown that class checks for headlice are not effective.
There are a variety of treatments available to families ranging in cost from very cheap to very expensive. Cost is no measure of effectiveness. The best way to break the cycle is regular systematic treatment from a range of options listed below, keeping in mind that the head is the home of the brain.
The chemical treatments available in NZ are usually topical applications applied directly to the scalp. These include products containing Pyrethrum, pyrethrin, and/or Phenothrin; synthetic pyrethroids (permethrin); and organophosphates such as malathion, also known as maldison.
Physical methods of removing nits and lice can be effective on their own but they are time consuming. Eggs are cemented strongly to the hair shaft and simple washing usually doesn’t remove them. Metal nit combs are the most effective way of physically removing the nits.
The easiest way to find lice is to put lots of conditioner on dry hair – at least three times as much as usual. Conditioner stuns the insects for about 20 minutes and makes them easier to comb out. Repeat the combing at least twice more on consecutive nights if possible and then weekly.
Cutting the hair short makes searching and removing lice easier but won’t prevent reinfestation. Hairdressers often refuse to cut hair showing any signs of eggs or lice.
Products such as dimethicone ( a silicone oil), petroleum jelly or benzyl alcohol. Home remedies such as mayonnaise and olive oil have been used but can be messy..
There are several products available that are based on essential oils.
An Australian study, entered into the Australian/New Zealand Clinical Trial Registry in August 2010, compared the efficacy and safety of three topical treatments; one containing Melaleuca oil (tea tree oil) and lavender oil; a head lice “suffocation” product; and a product containing pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide.
The percentage of subjects who were louse-free one day after the last treatment with the product containing tea tree oil and lavender oil and the head lice “suffocation” product was significantly higher compared to the percentage of subjects who were louse-free one day after the last treatment with the product containing pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide
“The high efficacy of the TTO/LO product and the head lice “suffocation” product offers a realistic alternative to the pyrethrins-based product.”
As I am always concerned about using chemicals if effective alternatives are available, I will pass on a well tried recipe given to me by the health nurse at a large secondary school in Christchurch.
It is cheap, easy and effective.
RECIPE FOR HEAD LICE TREATMENT
5ML TEA TREE OIL approx. 2 x12ml bottle lids full
1 CUP WHITE VINEGAR – or cider vinegar
2 TABLESPOONS SHAMPOO or conditioner
Mix ingredients in a clean plastic bottle.
Shake well to dissolve essential oil.
Apply as much as you need to cover the head, scalp and hair.
Cover head with glad wrap.
Leave for half an hour.
Repeat every 4 days for 5 applications to break the hatching cycle successfully. Combing with a nit comb would be a good idea as well.