There’s no magical product that gets rid of lice; you have to put in the effort

Washington is one of at least 25 states where head lice have become highly resistant to the most common pesticides.
Washington is one of at least 25 states where head lice have become highly resistant to the most common pesticides. Tribune

Nancy Gordon has seen children whose scalps are forests of lice.

In one instance, she met a young girl who’d had lice for years. Kids at school bullied her, calling her “Buggie” and refusing to play with her, Gordon said.

But after visiting one of Gordon’s lice treatment clinics in Seattle, the girl was lice-free. She went back to school, shame-free.

“That was actually one of the most fulfilling cases,” said Gordon, owner of Lice Knowing You. “She just felt like a person (again). She was so happy.”

Lice are a common childhood problem, and although not an actual health hazard, the blood-sucking parasites are a problem fraught with headaches. They can be annoying, time-consuming to fix, and expensive. Children can miss school because of it, or face ridicule at school because of it.

Recent talk about “super lice” – lice that are chemically-resistant to treatment – has added additional worry for many parents.

While there are many do-it-yourself treatment options, those without the time or desire to comb through their child’s hair can hire professionals.

Lice Knowing You does business in five western states, with five salons in the greater Seattle area. They also do mobile in-home service. Gordon said people are typically seen quicker via clinic.

Her company operates with natural and organic treatment products, and focuses on complete removal of eggs and nits (lice eggs) in one visit.

Rachel Bourgeois is the owner of “Louse Rescue,” another business operating with a similar treatment process. The Mount Vernon-based lice specialist said she gets roughly 70 percent of her business – primarily based on in-home visits – from the Bellingham area.

Both agree that the only way to kill lice is to remove every bug and egg off an infested head, by comb or even by hand. And even super lice, Gordon said, are not resistant from that method of treatment.

Removals can be lengthy, and Bourgeois said she typically spends about 2 hours a head on lice removal, with time varying based on hair length, thickness and infestation amount.

For children who don’t want to sit still that long, Gordon’s salons have TVs and games. Bourgeois recommends putting on a movie or TV show if conducting treatment at home.

Both women also agree on the many misconceptions people have about lice.

The bugs don’t hop, fly or jump, and need a human host in order to survive more than a day or two. Lice are blood-type specific, Bourgeois said, and while their eggs can still hatch on any head, bugs who aren’t on the right head will likely die quicker.

And while Bourgeois recommends washing bedding, clothing and other things that have come into contact with a child’s head, it’s not the same as a flea infestation.

“You don’t need to go absolutely crazy and scour your house,” she said.

Head-to-head contact is the primary method of transmitting lice, and they rarely stray from the scalp. You can’t get them from pets, and age also has little bearing. While school-age children ages 5 to 12 seem most prone to head lice, Gordon said she’s seen adults as old as 89 get them.

Bourgeois also warns parents to be careful, as she’s seen parents with infestations worse than their kids’.

Perhaps most importantly, more than half of people with lice don’t have itchy scalps. Those who do are allergic to a louse’s saliva.

Lice also like clean hair better than dirty hair, Gordon said, meaning hair without products like gel or other debris that make egg laying on hair shafts difficult. The concept of dirty hair also carries with it a social stigma.

“Some parents still think that only dirty, poor people get lice,” she said. “Lice know no socioeconomic status – they don’t know if you’re rich, poor, dirty, clean.”

The sooner a child is treated for lice, the better, Bourgeois said, as there is typically a week between egg laying and hatching.

Whether at home or through a salon, head lice are a treatable condition for parents and their children.

“They just have to put the time and effort to it,” Gordon said. “There are no shortcuts. There’s no magical product, or gadget or gizmo that gets rid of lice. You still have to put in the effort to comb out what’s in the hair.”

Lice watch

Parent responsibility for head lice management from the Bellingham School District:

Check your student’s head before the start of the school year, before returning from school breaks, and monthly.

Treat your child with a medically approved product. Follow instructions on packaging. It is unsafe to use kerosene or defoggers for the treatment of lice. Ask your health care provider or pharmacist if you are unsure as to what product to use.

If you or the school finds lice please know your child should return to school after appropriate treatment has been initiated.

Continue combing and picking for nits daily. It usually takes at least 2 weeks of combing/picking for all nits to be removed.

Examine all household members monthly. Do not treat children under the age of 2. If a child under the age of two is affected consult with your health care provider for safe options.

Soak brushes, combs, hair clips etc. in hot water (temperature greater than 120 degrees Fahrenheit) for 10 minutes.

Because lice cannot live long off a human head your focus should be on treating the hair and combing for nits instead of treating the environment.

The use of environmental sprays is not recommended due to possible toxicity and ineffectiveness.