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Family Stories and Stories about Smoke Schools- August 19, 2009

How to Control Head Lice

I originally wrote and published this story on head lice on October 12, 1999 when we had an awful prolonged head lice experience with my daughter Heather, then age 7. She is now 17. Now, my granddaughter is having a continuous problem with head lice so I had to search the internet for my previous story and decided to republish it for my current web page. So here is is- All you ever needed to know about head lice.

For 13 years I worked in the United States Air Force Hospital Environmental Health Office. One of my jobs was to inspect hair for head lice, nits, or eggs. I would write prescriptions of Lindane based Kwell Shampoo and write a note to the teacher, clearing the student to return to school because treatment was administered.

Information from my previous story 1999:

I thought I knew everything there was to know about head lice. A recent episode of head lice caused my seven-year-old to miss 7 days of school and taught me that I didn’t really know anything about lice.

Head lice itch and they may cause infection. They are highly contagious and can easily jump from one head to another. They can live for days in your pillowcases, sheets, hats, combs, and brushes. That is why it is important to use hot water and laundry detergent  and table salt  about 1/4 th cup to wash your bedding. Lice can move from one host to another by sharing hats, combs, or brushes. If you find head lice, you should seal hats, combs, and brushes in plastic bags in a very hot environment such as a garage for at least 2 weeks or you may run them through the dryer for at least half an hour. Tell your children not to bump heads, and not to share hats, combs, or brushes.

Contrary to popular opinion, head lice like clean straight hair. They do not like oily or kinky hair. Each parent should inspect their children’s hair weekly, searching for live bugs, and nits. The white nits attach within an inch of the scalp and particularly like the area around the ears or the around the back of the neck. The nits are attached and do not flake out of the hair and do not come out of the hair easily.

You should not bring your child to school or daycare with lice, because they can spread like wildfire. You should immediately seek treatment from your local medical doctor. You have to treat everyone in the household.

I have long suspected that head lice had developed resistance to treatment to over-the-counter medications. This suspicion was mounted by my daughter's  latest month long bout with head lice. A few weeks ago, I was listening to a news story on National Public Radio.

According to the story, "Rid, an over-the-counter lice treatment with pyrethrin as the active ingredient, was applied to two groups of kids with lice infected hair. One group was from the United States and the other group was from another country. Rid killed all the lice from the kids from the other country, but did not kill all the lice from the kids from the United States." Now I am just a country boy, and I ain’t no lawyer or a doctor, but it sounds likely, if the story is true, that the head lice are immune to any over-the-counter medication with pyrethrin as an active ingredient.

Our doctor gave us a prescription for a brand new product, Ovide, with malathion as an active ingredient. Ovide was released earlier, however the manufacturer discontinued it because, quiet simply, it smelled bad.

Currently Ovide or Malathion is available with physician prescription only. It is very important to read to directions thoroughly!!

Now ask your doctor for malathion.

Following the instructions on the label, Ovide will kill both the lice and the eggs. You must put the product on dry hair.  However, do not rinse it out. Leave the product in for eight hours.

The school apparently has a zero tolerance for head lice nits. These turned out to be the most difficult to remove. I tried everything the label suggested, the doctor suggested, and a local dermatologist suggested. I tried the lice combs, the electric battery lice comb. I tried lemon juice. I tried kerosene, an old home remedy. I even considered paint thinner, until I read the label about toxicity and the links to brain damage. My last effort was to consider shaving her head. Had the beauty shops been open on Monday, I would have.

I ended up using Hope's Lemon Oil Furniture Treatment. The oil is designed to dissolve old furniture wax. The label said it was non toxic. I have polished many tables with it and my hands have not fallen off. I knew that lice do not like oily hair. So I figured what the heck, let’s try it.

To my surprise, it seems to have worked. She was admitted back into school Tuesday.

The lemon oil treatment for nits goes easier if you have the child sitting on a yard chair outside. Let the child hold their head down almost between their legs. Brush the hair upside down until it is all hanging in front of their head. Wrap a towel around the child’s arms and chest to protect from spilling. Use swimming goggles, or wash cloths to prevent the oil from getting into the eyes. Liberally pour the furniture polish into the hair. Let it sit there for at least 10 minutes. Use a stiff hairbrush to work the polish into the hair. Brush it repeatedly, and brush it again to work out all the kinks. Comb through the hair several times with a lice comb. The polish makes the nits stand out very clearly. Most of the knits will now pull out rather easily.

You can pull them out with your fingers. Keep brushing the hair and using the knit comb until most of the nits are gone. Leave the oil in for about an hour. Brush the hair again with a hairbrush and the nit comb. Then shampoo with your normal shampoo. Remember it is a 2 step cure. First you have to kill the live lice and the knits, then you have to use the lemon oil to comb out the nits.

 Initial inspections for nits and bugs continued. The school should send parents a letter instructing them to get a prescription from a medical doctor. The letter should also give some hints about how to treat bedding, hats, combs, and brushes. The parents should bring a copy of the prescription to the school with a written statement indicating that the lice were treated. The students are normally readmitted after initial treatment and nit removal. The hair should be retreated after 7 days to kill any remaining lice.  All day care facilities and schools will not allow students to come back unless all of the nits are gone. Have you tried to keep a seven-year-old still while you pull on their hair for an hour. Have fun!

Head lice are highly contagious and the school should take some steps to control them. The bubonic plague and the common cold are also contagious and the school should be just as aggressive with these diseases as they are in controlling the spread of head lice. The school should not let kids walk around the halls with mucus dripping down their chin, coughing out germs, and touching doorknobs with germ coated hands. I think that missing seven days of school for dead head lice eggs is simply ridiculous. Just deal with it and take care of it right the first time.


How do you know if your child has head lice?

The first sign if head lice is itching.

The lice bite the head and leaves an open sore. If your child is continuously scratching their head search for head lice. Comb through their hair and search for live bugs.

Hear is a microscopic view of live head lice.


Then search for eggs or nits. The nits look at first like dandruff flakes but will not peel off- they are attached. The white nits attach within an inch of the scalp and particularly like the area around the ears or the around the back of the neck. The nits are attached and do not flake out of the hair and do not come out of the hair easily.





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