Back to School: Heads Up on Head Lice

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

About 6 million to 12 million head lice infestations occur annually among U.S. children 3 to 11 years of age, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

“Head lice are not a health hazard, a sign of uncleanliness or a vector for disease,” states the National Institutes for Health on its website.

Upon their child’s diagnosis of head lice — usually at school or the pediatrician’s office — many parents head to the drugstore to buy an over-the-counter remedy, some of which contain pesticide; others contain dimethicone, a silicone-based product that smothers the lice and prevents them from managing water.

But they have other choices.

Marnie Murray co-owns Naughty Nits in Williamsville, part of a national chain that also operates in Rochester and Syracuse areas.

“The pesticides are designed to kill the bugs, but not the eggs,” Murray said. “The resistance rate is high after 40 years. ‘Super lice’ are resistant to permethrin-based treatments.”

Stronger preparations are available by prescription. But Naughty Nits uses a different method. Instead of killing with chemicals, the company uses AirAlle FDA-approved medical device that dehydrates the lice and eggs. With a 30-minute treatment, followed by a 30-minute comb-out, the client should be lice-free.

“It’s a silver bullet,” Murray said. “It’s relaxing, stress-free and chemical-free but deadly to lice and eggs. It has a specifically designed, one-use tip.”

She said that the device has more than 500,000 uses worldwide without incident. Naughty Nits doesn’t take insurance; however, Murray said some people have submitted their itemized receipts with mixed results.

“People think they can use the blow dryer, but that can burn the scalp,” Murray said. “AirAlle is similar to a blow dryer, but it’s gentle. It has a similar sensation but it’s different technology.”

She said parents don’t have to go crazy cleaning their home; however, items that have come into direct contact with their child’s head should be cleaned with hot water. Items that can’t be cleaned with hot water may be sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks to kill the lice.

Naughty Nit’s most expensive treatment is $169. The facility also offers an “express” treatment for $119 and a DIY topical treatment that’s less.

The company also sells a line of organic preventive items that contain tea tree, rosemary, mint, citronella and eucalyptus which Murray said ward off bugs to prevent re-infestation after a bout of lice.

“They have 93 percent efficacy in clinical trials,” she said. “When you’ve had head lice they leave pheromones on your head that’s very difficult to get off that’s imperceptible to humans. You have to have something in your hair that’s a different scent to mask that.”

Don’t share

Physician Joanne Wu, board-certified in integrative and holistic medicine lives in Rochester and Buffalo. She recommends oil of tea tree, lavender and eucalyptus used in a carrier oil for both treating and preventing head lice. A few small studies seem to indicate at least a measure of efficacy in essential oils, she said.

“The important thing is don’t share implements,” she said. “Any materials that come in contact with the child’s head should be cleaned.”

All household members and those in close contact should be checked for head lice, too.