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Battle of the Bug

Winning the War Against Head Lice

It reminds me of little creepy crawlers that invade in the night.

The majority of my friends’ children have had it.

It comes in waves and it is like an epidemic that hits a school or group of friends or entire families.

The Jones’ girls have not had it yet and I say “yet” because I am sure as I sit down to write this article it will soon invade my home.

It’s that nasty word that is sometimes whispered in public—the dreaded head lice.

What is it? Can you prevent it? How do you treat it?  

“Head lice (pediculosis capitas) are small parasitic insects that live on the scalp and hair and survive by removing small amounts of blood from the scalp,” says Kelly Hitchcock, RN, school nurse for Westminster Schools of Augusta. The most common symptom includes itching, which is mainly caused by the allergic reaction to the saliva of the louse.

Pharmaceutical and Natural Treatments

There are many treatment options out there for head lice, including over-the-counter products, prescription products from your doctor and natural and herbal therapies. Although the FDA does not yet approve many of the natural and herbal remedies, they work quite well. In fact, Hitchcock says she believes many of the lice she has found recently are developing some resistance to the over-the-counter products.

Mary Anne Franklin, mother of three children, ages 11, 9, and 5, recently had a lice experience. When she called her pediatrician, he recommended Googling the “New York Times Cetaphil lice treatment.” “The article explains that this is just as effective as the over-the-counter treatments, and it allows you to treat without using pesticides,” she says. Basically you put Cetaphil cleanser all over the hair, blow it dry, put a shower cap over the head and sleep the with hair treated and covered. The next morning, you wash the hair and pick out any nits. Continue to look for and pick out nits for a couple of days after treatment.

Whichever treatment a parent chooses to use, Hitchcock recommends to continue to “nit pick” with a fine-tooth comb to remove all the nits from the hair. “This takes much time and patience, and it needs to be done every day until the nits are not found,” she adds.

Robin Barfield, mother of three boys, successfully used the Cetaphil treatment but before that washed the boys’ hair with Rosemary Mint shampoo. “The lice hate the odor and a lot of them came out after that,” she says. She then washed their hair with Palmolive dish soap, which helped the lice to “slide out.” Next, she used the Nix over-the-counter treatment but still saw some bugs in one of the boy’s hair. The Cetaphil treatment, combined with literally picking the nits out of the hair, did the trick. After about seven days, Barfield treated again with Nix and then used a tree oil shampoo for a week to further prevent infestation.  

A handbook called “Live Lice Free” by Susan Thomas suggests the following remedy to remove lice. The ingredients are all natural and most products are available at a health food store.

10 drops tea tree oil
15 drops anise seed oil
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons neem oil or coconut oil
(Can also use lavender)

Mix together, pour over the head and rub into hair. Cover with shower cap and leave on for one and a half hours to overnight. Comb through hair with a brush and then with a lice comb. Separate out sections of the hair and search for eggs and any lice. Wash as normal. Repeat every day if/when you see lice. Definitely repeat in 10 days. Rinsing hair with Listerine also helps.

As for all the stuff your children have slept on or touched two days before infestation, there are a few things you can do. Either wash all pillowcases, comforters, stuffed animals, etc., in hot water or store them in plastic bags for two weeks. This will kill any lice that may still be alive. Vacuum the floors and furniture. Soak combs and brushes for one hour in a solution of Lysol and rubbing alcohol or wash with soap and warm water. Once washed, place the items in a bag and put in the freezer for two days, according to the Web site

Preventive Measures

“Head lice cannot necessarily be prevented but there are some ways to deter them,” says Hitchcock. Recommend that your child not borrow or use other people’s brushes, hair clips, combs, pillows, hats and helmets. Also, lice do not like hair products so it would help to put a hair product on your child’s hair during an outbreak. “I have also been told that mixing gold Listerine with water (half and half) and putting it in a spray bottle to apply to the child’s hair in the morning before going to school may help,” she says.

Franklin’s advice for parents is to just relax and follow the treatment plan you choose to try and you should be lice free in a couple of days. “There are much bigger problems,” she says.

Common Myths About Head Lice


There are many myths associated with head lice that parents need to be aware of. Here are a few:

1. Having lice is a sign of poor hygiene.
Actually, lice prefer clean hair. It spreads through close contact or sharing brushes, combs, etc.

2. Lice can fly or jump.
Lice can only crawl at a rate of 12 inches per minute.

3. Pets can host lice.
Lice can only feed on human blood.

4. Lice cannot survive away from the human body.
Lice can actually live for 48 hours away from the human scalp. Their eggs can survive for 10 days.

Cammie Jones is an Augusta freelance writer and mother of three.

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