Each year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), millions of school-aged children get head lice in the United States. Lice are an insect that infest human hair and feed on tiny amounts of blood from the scalp. They’re generally found on the head and neck and attach their eggs to the base of the hair shaft. While it’s a condition that predominantly affects children, it can affect anyone.
In 2015, there were reports of “mutant” head lice that have become resistant to the commonly used over the counter products and even some prescription drugs. Massachusetts is just one of the 25 states that have seen these mutant lice.
Dr. Michael Klatte, infectious disease specialist at Baystate Children’s Hospital, talks about how to protect your child from lice and highlights a way to safely and effectively eliminate any type of lice without harsh chemicals.
How are they spread?
As hat and scarf season sets in, children start spending more time indoors playing. This is when head lice can become more of a concern. While it’s more common for lice to be transmitted during the fall and winter months, they can occur at any time during the year.
Lice have nothing to do with poor hygiene or an unclean home environment. Close head-to-head contact is the primary way head lice are spread. Also, lice can only be spread through human to human contact. They cannot be transmitted from animals to human or vice versa.
The most common symptom of head lice is an itchy scalp, especially behind ears and at the nape of the neck. The best way to check for lice is to part your child’s hair and look at the scalp. Look for small white or yellow-brown specks that are firmly attached to the hair shafts. These are nits, or lice eggs. It may be more difficult to spot adult lice because they are small and will move quickly away when exposed to light. If you do find lice in your child’s hair, be sure to check the rest of the family.
Lice stay close to the scalp because they require a certain body temperature to survive. Since they can’t jump, they are usually only spread by direct head to head contact. While it is uncommon for them to crawl from one person’s clothing to another, there are ways you can reduce your child’s chances of catching these pests:
- Tell your child not to share hats or scarves or coats.
- Keep hair relatively short or tied up to prevent hair-to-hair contact
- Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons, or barrettes.
- Do not share combs, brushes, or towels.
Excessive environmental cleaning, such as home pesticides, is not recommended to eliminate lice. However, washing pillow cases and treating natural bristle hair care items that may have been in contact with the hair of anyone found to have head lice are reasonable measures.
How to get rid of mutant lice?
The Cetaphil method has been proven to eliminate these resistant lice. Cetaphil skin cleanser is a gentle over the counter skin cleanser. One particular study from 2004 shows a 96 to 97% success rate at eliminating these mutant lice. This treatment works by suffocating the lice. For best results, follow the steps below for a total of three treatments done one week apart:
- First apply a liberal amount of Cetaphil cleaner to the dry scalp, until it is thoroughly saturated with the cleanser.
- Blow dry the hair until completely dry.
- Leave the treatment in the hair for 8 hours or more. Lice can go up to 8 hours without taking a breath.
- Repeat once a week for three weeks.