Getting The Heads Up On Lice Treatment
It’s about this time school-age children will be meeting old friends and making some new friends too. Almost certainly in the mix of new acquaintances – the uninvited ones - will be head lice. Statistics indicate that more than 20% of primary school students are likely to have head lice.
However, the fact is anyone with a head can catch head lice – regardless of age, sex, background or how clean your hair is. Head lice spread anywhere that people work, play and live together. Indeed, it takes only one infested head to infest a whole classroom full of heads; then our children so unselfishly pass the infestation on to the rest of the family.
The medical term of head lice is pediculus humanus capitis. But however you describe them, these tiny wingless insects are extremely common. In fact, head lice are endemic in Australia. Interestingly, they can’t jump or fly but they sure can crawl and climb; and they live their entire life (about a month or so) on the head of their host.
Their favourite hiding places are behind the ears and at the back of the neck. Female lice lay their eggs (known as nits) close to the scalp, where they remain firmly stuck to the base of the hair shaft until they hatch a week or so later.
Head lice feed exclusively on human blood; but unlike body lice and mosquitoes, two other groups of little blood suckers, it appears that head lice do not carry disease. They can, however, cause severe itching and this can lead to scratching and skin infections.
Of course an itchy scalp may be due to many other causes – among them dandruff, psoriasis and so-called seborrhoeic dermatitis. So, before you start shampooing with insecticide, it’s best to get an accurate diagnosis.
The good news is that if you or your children have head lice, there are simple, safe and effective strategies to send them on their way. Various shampoos, lotions, cream rinses and conditioners are available. Many chemical treatments are based on the chrysanthemum-type pyrethrin insecticides; some contain malathion; and there are several remedies available based on essential oils such as anise, lavender, rosemary and the Australian favourite melaleuca (tea tree) oil. When used as indicated these natural treatments have been shown in some studies to be more effective even than the chemical treatments.
There are also special fine tooth combs (some battery operated) to help facilitate the removal of the sticky nits.
If live lice are found in the combings after treatment, it’s possible that the head lice are resistant to the particular product, and the person should be retreated as soon as possible using a product from a different group. Nevertheless, most treatment failures are due to inadequate time in contact with hair and scalp, inappropriate application methods, or the use of ineffective products. Ask your pharmacist to recommend an evidence-based product – that is: one that is proven to be effective.
Remember whatever head lice treatment you choose, a fine tooth comb is essential to get the nits out and a good hair conditioner will get rid of the knots out.
Regular inspection, and detection, and persistence and perseverance with an effective product used appropriately are the keys to success with head lice treatments. Of course, it helps if you can convince all the parents of your children’s classmates to put in place similar procedures.