Rhonda Patt

Ask the pediatrician: Lice are heading back to school too

As students head back to the classrooms, so do head lice. Dr. Patt offers suggestions for preventing and treating the bugs.
As students head back to the classrooms, so do head lice. Dr. Patt offers suggestions for preventing and treating the bugs. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q. I have been reading about resistant head lice in the news. With school starting, what can be done to prevent head lice? And how should it be treated?

A. Head lice infestations are exceedingly common, affecting 6-12 million children in the United States per year. Fall is the peak season for head lice.

Parents should educate their children about lice and lice prevention.

Do not share combs, brushes, hair accessories or hats

Each student should have a set of designated headphones

If multiple children share a locker or cubby, jackets, sweaters and scarves should be placed in backpacks and zipped

Hair products that contain dimethicone coat the hair shaft and may reduce the likelihood of lice infestation

Parents can monitor for lice by doing weekly head inspections. Children with lice will typically have an itchy scalp. To inspect you child’s hair, sit in a well-lit area and comb through small sections of hair beginning at the nape of the neck. Nits are tiny, oval, and white. They are adherent to the hair shaft by a glue-like substance, unlike dandruff which is easily removed.

The first-line recommended treatment for head lice is still an over-the-counter shampoo such as Permethrin 1% (Nix). Prescription-strength medications are available for resistant cases but may cost $150 or more. Most lice treatments do not destroy 100% of the nits or eggs. For this reason, it is important to comb through your child’s hair daily until the lice and nits are gone. The treatment should be repeated in 7-10 days.

There are options for parents who are interested in non-chemical treatments for head lice. The Nuvo Method uses only Cetaphil cleanser. Instructions for this method can be found at www.nuvoforheadlice.com. Locally, there is a company called Pediatric Hair Solutions that uses heated air to treat lice.

Finally, you should wash all of your child’s recently worn clothing and bedding in hot water and vacuum carpet and upholstered furniture. Any items such as stuffed animals that cannot be washed should be placed in plastic bags for two weeks to insure that the lice have died before returning the items to the bed.

Recently, scientist Kyon Yoong, PhD, presented research to the American Chemical Society stating that he found widespread genetic mutations in lice samples that could make the lice resistant to over-the-counter treatments. However, it is important to know that Yoong’s research has not been reviewed by independent experts, and the study was funded by Sanofi which is the pharmaceutical company that makes Sklice, a prescription lice treatment. For now, treatment recommendations have not changed based on this research.