If you hear that your child (or one of your friends) has lice, your first reaction may be a mixture of disgust, panic and the need to disinfect everything in your home. That would be an exaggeration. Head lice are not a health hazard, and even drug-resistant “super lice” can be eradicated with proper treatment.

Head lice are not dangerous

Lice are small insects that live in the hair and feed on blood on the scalp. Brutus, to be sure. They are perfectly adapted to live in our heads: their little feet are hooked in strands of hair. When they lay eggs, they stick them to individual hairs, right next to the scalp.

That is all they do, however. They do not transmit diseases or cause major health problems. Your distant cousins, body lice, yes, but those are insects that live in clothes and are only a problem if you do not change clothes for weeks. On the other hand, a case of lice does not mean you are living in filth. Lice can survive shampooing, so they can end up in any head, no matter how clean they are.

Lice need to bite their scalps at every meal (again, ew) and after a few weeks of this, they might be sensitized with their saliva and begin to itch. Children are often not diagnosed with head lice until a parent or teacher sees them scratching their heads. I asked the pediatrician Cynthia D. Devore, who wrote the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics on lice, which is the worst case scenario for a child with a terrible case of lice. She said that it is possible that with enough scratch, a child could end up breaking the skin, which could lead to an infection. However, the same would be true for any type of scratch or cut. She asked me to “emphasize … that lice are a nuisance, not a life-threatening condition.”

Earlier this year, the “super lice”, difficult to kill, began to be news. An article in the Journal of Medical Entomology reported that a gene that gives insects resistance to some insecticides was more widespread than we previously thought. But this is just putting numbers on a problem that doctors and entomologists already knew: some insects are resistant to some insecticides.

Head lice do not spread so easily

You do not have to worry about your pets, your stuffed animals or your furniture. Lice live on human heads, that’s all. They die after a day or two without eating, so you have nothing to fear from a hat that was last used a week ago, or from a street louse that fell on your carpet.

In fact, you are not likely to get lice from a hat or a pillowcase. Transmission in this way is possible, but rare. Instead, the lice move head to head directly. If two children are absorbed in the same book or iPad game, looking at it with their heads touching, is when the lice can spread.

In fact, most cases of “back to school” lice probably do not come from schools, since children do not usually rub their heads together during class. Dr. Devore points out that if you do not get a case of lice until the child starts scratching his head, he is probably only detecting cases that are at least a few weeks old. That means that if they start stinging in September, they are more likely to have contracted lice at summer camp.

If you want to notice lice when you first move, you will have to check your child’s head frequently. Lice can be hard to see, so it’s not an easy job. While Dr. Devore recommends it, I do not see myself taking time for regular inspections of my children’s hair.

It is probably smart to avoid sharing hats and other items that come in contact with hair, but there is no need to be paranoid about it. If a sports team shares helmets, for example, it is better to wear a helmet than to be at risk of head injuries for fear of lice. Cleaning a hat or helmet with a damp paper towel is usually good enough to eliminate lice, says Dr. Devore. You can also leave the hat in a plastic bag for 72 hours. She does not recommend insecticide sprays, because there is virtually no benefit to overcoming the risks of exposing children to chemicals in the spray.

It is annoying, but not impossible, to get rid of head lice

Each year, between six and 12 million children have lice. Adults can also get them. You have probably heard about some cases in your school (some schools notify parents) or maybe you heard the rumor about “super lice” in your state. If you end up with lice on your child’s head, or even yours, do not lose hope.

First, if you are a teacher or a school nurse who discovers the lice, you should not take your child out of school for the day. School policies vary, but the American Academy of Pediatrics is convinced that “children should not be restricted from school because of head lice, because lice have low contagion in the classroom.” Dr. Devore says that a child with lice should stay in class and that their parents can treat them for lice that night. The school nurse must inspect the child’s head daily for lice for two weeks. Some schools require children to stay at home until the treatment is over and the eggs have disappeared. Dr. Devore says that if your child does not attend many schools and wants to fight the policy, consider contacting the Office of Civil Rights of the US Department of Education. UU., Since this should not interfere with your right to education.

The best treatment for lice is to use an insecticidal shampoo, but here are some caveats. First, you may want to verify that your child actually has lice before dipping his head with pesticides. Dandruff and dirt are often mistaken for louse eggs, and even if you find actual eggs, it may be due to a previous infestation that resolved before you noticed it. Instead, you’re looking for live lice. They are small, about the size of a sesame seed, and their eggs will be half an inch from the scalp.

Insecticide shampoos are not perfect, but they are the most reliable treatment

There are many different types of shampoos that kill lice, but insects, including the “super lice” mentioned above, may be resistant to some of them.

Consulting with your pediatrician is a good idea, says Dr. Devore, because you may have an idea of ​​what shampoos tend to work best in your area. They can also hook you up with prescription strength shampoos. (This is a practical picture of the different treatments available.) Prescription drugs have a higher price, up to $ 250, according to Dr. Devore. Pharmacy treatments are more frequent in the price range of $ 25, but if they do not work and you end up trying them several times, they could end up being more expensive in the long term.

In addition to resistance, there may be other reasons why a treatment does not work. The CDC describes the culprits here: you may not have followed the instructions exactly, there may have been a hair conditioner to start, or you may have used a two-treatment product but applied the second treatment too early or too soon. late. It is worth checking twice that you have followed the instructions perfectly to avoid having to repeat the treatment again.

If insecticide shampoos seem too complicated or dangerous, you may be tempted to simply smother your son’s hair in mayonnaise and call it one day. The idea behind the treatments with mayonnaise or olive oil is to choke the lice, but there is not enough evidence to say if these treatments work. Take the opportunity, if you wish, simply be aware of the uncertainty.

By the way, if your child really wants to shave his head, that’s an effective treatment. However, it is not necessary in any way. If that’s not your favorite hairstyle, stay with the shampoos and so on.

There is one more option: a professional lice removal service. They can use the same treatments they can try at home, but many also use AirAllé, a device that dehydrates lice with air. It is something like a high speed and low temperature hair dryer. The manufacturer of AirAllé lists the disposal services that use your product here. Many others are local and independent businesses that you may find searching in your area or asking for recommendations. Leaving technology aside, I imagine that the great attraction of hiring a service is that you do not have to approach your son’s mistakes.

In case there are some lice in pillowcases or shared hats, simply wash or dry them. Temperatures above 130 degrees Fahrenheit will kill lice. Leaving the items in a plastic bag for a few days will kill any live louse, and if you are paranoid, the eggs may hatch in that hat or hairbrush (it is unlikely, since they need body heat to survive). Bag closed for two weeks.

I have never had a case of lice in my family, and I will probably ignore my own advice and I will be frightened completely if I ever do it. But it is useful to know that the small creatures are harmless and will not be installed in my house, and that I or another brave person can get rid of the lice following the instructions in a pharmacy or prescription treatment.

Illustration of Angelica Alzona.

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