Thrive: Lice problem has parents scratching their heads

Becky Ginos

Staff Writer

With the beginning of a new year, most people are making resolutions and setting goals – not looking for lice. There’s a major “ick” factor to the subject but head lice infestations are most common in January with 6 to 12 million children 3 to 11 years old fighting the little critters each year.

“January is a good month for parents to check their kids,” said Adam Ward, co-owner of the Lice Clinics of America – Clearfield and COO for the corporate office. “A lot of times with families getting together and more people in closer spaces, sharing beds and pillows it’s easy to transfer from one head to another head.”

Ward said parents should get a good quality lice comb and run it through their child’s hair periodically. “It can pick up hatched bugs and eggs that have firmly attached to the hair,” he said. “A rat tail comb will also work to see bugs and eggs. Eggs are easier to see because they don’t move. The lice are about the size of a sesame seed.”

School-age children are especially susceptible, but anyone can get lice, Ward said. “They can lay 50 to 150 eggs so the sooner you spot them the better,” he said. “People who have an infestation won’t necessarily be scratching so they don’t know. Symptoms can take up to six weeks. Parents may get a note from school so they know their child might have it. Generally, if one member of the family has it there’s a 68 percent chance someone else in the family will have lice too.”

Parents should watch for:

• Itching – if a child is scratching his head a lot that’s a good sign something is going on.

• Redness on the scalp – there might be a red area the more they scratch.

• Sleep problems – a child may have difficulty sleeping because of the itching sensation.

• Visual – people reach up and find a bug. If you see it obviously you are infected.

“Head lice have been around for as long as humans have,” said Ward. “Head lice are the most prevalent type. They’ve adapted very well to that environment on a head. It’s warm and close to a food source (blood).”

There are some myths as to how someone gets lice he said. “People will say they got it from movie theater seats, etc. They’ll go to extremes like bagging up stuffed animals and everything in the house but that’s not necessary,” said Ward. “You just need to treat the head. It’s unlikely the lice will come off the head that easily. You can wash your hair and it won’t knock them out too well. It has no bearing on economics. You can have lots of money and get lice. It’s not an issue of hygiene. If anything they like a clean environment.”

The best way to stop lice is avoiding head to head contact. “That’s easy to say but kids aren’t going to remember not to put their heads next to other kids on the playground,” he said. “You can have sleepovers with a roomful of girls sleeping on the floor with their heads together. You may be hugging somebody with lice and don’t know it. However, it spreads more through families than schools.”

Ward recommends school age girls pull their hair back or up in a bun to help prevent the spread of lice. “The less loose hair that comes in contact with others helps,” he said. “Loose hair gives lice the opportunity to grab onto somebody else’s hair strand.”

The most important thing is to be vigilante in looking for lice, he said. “We encourage people to be open about it and get rid of the stigma so others know to check,” said Ward. “People think they’ll be shunned but lots of people get head lice. Often when we’re treating a family we’ll ask if there are others who might have been exposed so we can let them know so they can be checked as well.”

If it does happen there are treatments available, Ward said. The Lice Clinic uses a medical device called the AirAlle that kills lice and 99.2 percent of lice eggs without using pesticides. They also sell kits for parents to use at home.

“We don’t recommend using any of the over-the-counter pesticide products because they are only about 25 percent effective now,” he said. “I’ve also heard of concoctions like putting mayonnaise in the hair but that can take eight hours to work and it’s hard to get it evenly coated.”

The clinic’s treatment options range in price from about $40 for the kit up to $165 for full service.

“There’s a certain ‘ick’ factor,” said Ward. “But it’s satisfying to see parents who have tried everything and are frustrated get results. They’re happy they got their life back. It’s nice to work in a business that has such an immediate, positive impact on families.”


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