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Got Lice? Get the Facts

Lice have been on the minds -- and heads -- of families since school began. At a Maryland park last week, for instance, moms had a head-scratching chat about the first notice home from school about the bugs and nits and different policies at elementary schools and preschools about when kids can get their scalps back in class.

And so, let's get right to the myths and facts about those annoying blood suckers, straight from an expert. Today, that's Dr. Barbara Frankowski, one of the lead authors of the American Academy of Pediatrics' policy on lice. Dr. Frankowski, a pediatrician at the University of Vermont department of medicine and a health consultant for the Burlington school district, debunks the myths:

Myth: Lice like dirty hair more than clean hair.

Fact: They like human heads, wherever they can get a foothold. Lice in the United States are slightly less common among children with kinky hair because they've adapted to holding onto straight hair. That doesn't hold true for other countries, such as Africa, where lice are prevalent.

Myth: Lice hop, jump and fly from one head to another.

Fact: Lice crawl. They spread through head-to-head contact. Although kids are encouraged not to share hair brushes or other hair-care products, it's unlikely the lice would pass from child to child that way. Also unlikely, lice spreading coat to coat. The bugs are more likely to pass from head to head when children are reading closely together on a beanbag chair in their classroom or simply playing with their hair touching.

Myth: Children should not share batting helmets, bike helmets or other head safety gear.

Fact: A louse wouldn't be able to hold onto the smooth surfaces of these products with their legs.

Myth: New superlice have developed that are harder to get rid of.

Fact: In some pockets around the country, lice are developing a resistance to the chemicals traditionally used to treat the bugs. This doesn't make them super in any way, just more resistant to the chemicals we've been treating them with for about two decades.

First and foremost, parents should always find a solution for lice removal that is safe. The two main ways to remove lice are chemical and mechanical.

If using chemicals, parents should make sure that they don't contain side effects. In most situations, the best way to remove lice continues to be over-the-counter remedies such as Nix and Rid. But be sure to use them properly by washing hair with a shampoo that does not contain conditioner. Towel dry the hair so it's just damp. Work in the chemical product and really let it stay for the amount of time printed on the label, counting the time from when you finish massaging the chemical into the hair. If those aren't effective, pediatricians may recommend Ovide, which contains the chemical malathion. There is no known lice resistance to malathion in the United States unlike in Great Britain, where it's becoming less effective. Ovide does have an obnoxious odor that can make some people sick to their stomachs. Plus, it's flammable. One chemical to avoid is lindane, which can be absorbed through the skin and cause seizures.

Mechanical methods are considered the safest of all. Plus, they have the advantage of not encouraging lice to develop a resistance to a chemical. While you can shell out big bucks to have someone remove the lice and nits from your child's hair, you can take care of the problem safely yourself. While some parents try to smother lice with olive oil, mayonnaise or petroleum jelly with varying levels of success, a better option may be Cetaphil gentle skin cleanser. A California dermatologist recommends soaking the hair and scalp with Cetaphil and then blow drying the hair and leaving the lotion on overnight. To remove bugs and nits manually, the National Pediculosis Association's Lice Meister comb works well.

Myth: Nits spread from child to child.

Fact: Nits are the eggs and can't crawl from head to head. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses don't recommend keeping school-age children home from school until every nit is gone.

Myth: Uh-oh. Lice. Guess I'll be scrubbing the house top to bottom and washing stuffed animals and toys and clothes in hot water.

Fact: "I tell parents, if you only have so much time and energy, it makes sense to spend the time getting the nits out," Dr. Frankowski says. Go ahead and vacuum areas where your child lays her head, like the sofa cushion, pillow cases and car seats or head rests. But don't feel like you have to go overboard. Lice that aren't attached die in 24 hours. Meanwhile, the nits are more likely to cause continued infestation when they hatch 10 days later. And there's no product that kills the nits 100 percent. So, spend 10 to 15 minutes every day looking for -- and removing -- nits.

Has your child come home with lice? What treatments worked -- and didn't?

Elsewhere: Now that the school year is in full swing, you've probably gotten at least one Scholastic book catalog from school. Well, some parents will be pleased to know that Bratz merchandise is out of the buying pamphlets this year.

And in China -- and now Hong Kong -- the illness toll related to contaminated infant formula continues to rise. More than 50,000 children have gotten sick with nearly 13,000 infants being admitted to hospitals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that it has been conducting a nationwide search for contaminated Chinese formula in the United States. Thus far, it hasn't found any. But the agency continues to warn parents to steer clear of infant formula manufactured in China.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  September 23, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Health , Tweens
Previous: Do You Know What to Do When Your School Locks Down? | Next: Teachable Money Moments


My daughter has never had lice and there has only ever been one documented case in five years at her school so I don't really have any first hand knowledge on the topic.
However, we use Fairy Tales shampoo and conditioner as her after-pool care and they apparently have a rather nice lice treatment program.

Posted by: 21117 | September 23, 2008 7:42 AM | Report abuse

"Has your child come home with lice?"


Posted by: Whacky Weasel | September 23, 2008 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Be extremely careful with all of those glamour makeover parties where the little girls get together and have their hair done! Our school had several infestations as a result of these. Worst are the ones that are done at a shop at a mall or where the hair salon people come to your house because apparently the health department doesn't regulate these the same way they would a salon. Share a hairbrush? Go ahead. Move barrettes from child to child? WHy not? But at least Princess will have really expensive lice as a result.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 23, 2008 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Got Rice? Yes, I like the brown rice the most.

Oh, you said lice! Nevermind!

Posted by: Rosanne | September 23, 2008 8:25 AM | Report abuse

We have used the Cetaphil with success. We also read that Suave Coconut shampoo and conditioner cause an odor that the lice don't like but I don't know how true that is. We use it regularly ever since the outbreak a year ago in Sterling Park Elementary.

The thing that gets me is that schools (or at least certain Loudoun Schools) do not do head checks?!? And if Lice are found they will still let the child attend school?!? My wife and I were outraged with the school when we found this out causing a several week infestation in the school. How is it daycare will not let a child in the door but a school thinks it's not a big deal? That is my one and only complaint about Sterling Elementary but this may or may not be a school issue as much as a legal liability.

Posted by: Sterling Park | September 23, 2008 8:27 AM | Report abuse

My daughter has never had it but her school sent a message home last year that someone in her class had it.

Posted by: foamgnome | September 23, 2008 8:50 AM | Report abuse

I have had more than my share of lice infestations. What bothers me most is that most parents won't admit to their child having lice -- it's considered so shameful. However, without sharing information and advice, the problem returns (believe me I KNOW).

The first time my daughter had lice, I used the RID shampoo. Big mistake! Apparently lice have something in their saliva that retards the healing of human wounds. That way they can come back and feed in the same place without a lot of work. Well, my daughter essentially had open wounds all over her head. Imagine how that would feel with chemicals poured into them!!! She screamed like I never heard her scream, begging me to remove the shampoo.

Instead, I am a huge fan of the Robi Comb. As the comb slides through the hair, it makes a soft humming sound until it encounters a louse. The humming sound stops and a small electrical charge passes from the comb’s teeth through the louse. It's the fastest way I know to kill lice. In addition to the comb, you have to remove the eggs (nits). There is no other way that to do this mechanically. If you don't remove all the eggs, the lice return in force (and then start reinfecting the rest of the class). I also use the Robi Comb twice a day (for a least a week) to make sure I didn't miss any eggs. It's hard work, but I would NEVER use those chemicals on my children's head again!

I also gave my children several lectures on how lice are spread. They don't like having the little buggies on their heads any more than I do. Eventually, they became more aware of how they were playing with friends and the lice disappear.

By the way, I had heard that lice PREFER clean hair -- it's easier to hold onto!

Posted by: S1234P | September 23, 2008 9:12 AM | Report abuse

lice..the most frustrating two-three weeks I can remember. Colic was a blast compared to an entire family with lice. The chemicals failed miserably...I would comb out lice that seemed to be laughing at the chemicals..really.. I thought I heard a chuckle. I would comb after the treatment and the lice would run ahead of the comb or off of the comb before I could squish them.

However, the cetaphil/suave shampoo on the head for 30 minutes, with plastic bag on the hair to cover it tightly really slows the suckers down (oxygen deprivation) so it is easier to remove the live lice. Comb through and put the comb into really hot water to rinse out the live lice and be sure to throw the water away frequently.

The other benefit is that the cetaphil or suave coconut shampoo treatment is pleasant smelling after shampooing making the nit picking less nasty. However, the only way to beat them is to spend HOURS (if you have a daughter that doesn't want to cut her hair) in front of tv combing and picking and combing and picking every couple of days because you always miss some. Also, you have to make sure you get any adolescent bugs that were too small for the first treatment but still too young to lay eggs. Do the cetaphil or suave shampoo treatment every three days until all the live lice are gone so they stop laying eggs and then nit pick for a week at least every other day. It works and you can't help but wash all of your sheets and vacuum like crazy when the whole family has feel so gross.

Happy hunting and all my sympathy to anyone who gets the plague.

Posted by: samclare | September 23, 2008 9:25 AM | Report abuse

"If using chemicals, parents should make sure that they don't contain side effects."

Things don't contain side effects, they cause them.

Posted by: HUH? | September 23, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

So at what age is it appropriate to discuss the transfer of body lice during the school's pubic sex education classes? What would Obama say? Kindergarten? :-O

Posted by: Whacky Weasel | September 23, 2008 9:50 AM | Report abuse

i guess this gives a whole new meaning to 'ewww! boys got cooties! :)

Posted by: nall92 | September 23, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse

LOL, Whacky. Also, don't forget there's probably good value in some sort of argument about whether lice infestations are getting worse because of global warming, and whether humans cause/exacerbate global warming.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | September 23, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Who but the Chinese would buy infant formula made in China? Get a grip. There's plenty of wholesome formula on the shelves made in America.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 23, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse

oSo at what age is it appropriate to discuss the transfer of body lice during the school's pubic sex education classes? What would Obama say? Kindergarten? :-O

Posted by: Whacky Weasel | September 23, 2008 9:50 AM

If you got laid more, you wouldn't be asking such foolish questions.

Posted by: A word to the wise | September 23, 2008 10:26 AM | Report abuse

To add to your point WorkingMomX, I've heard that cleaning products and disinfectants are the cause to the rise in autism, allergies and cancers. Also, I've noticed a lack of bees lately and may have to resort to hand-pollenating my garden vegetables. Is it possible that we humans are sterylizing our environment to death?

Hand-pollenation, sheesh, the term itself sounds like a sin.

Posted by: Whacky Weasel | September 23, 2008 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I read this and started itching.

Luckily, the kids haven't brought home lice yet. I don't know anyone personally who has had lice. But I suppose that's not something that would come up in normal conversation around here. :>

Posted by: theoriginalmomof2 | September 23, 2008 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Is it possible that we humans are sterylizing our environment to death?

Posted by: Whacky Weasel | September 23, 2008 10:37 AM

Popping out 4 kids won't help the environment either.

Posted by: Sheesh | September 23, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Any wisdom on whether lice like to hide in headrests of commuter buses or trains? We're all adults who commute but I'm suspicious of the headrests on the seats. They're upholstery, probably a good hiding place for lice.

Posted by: Commuter | September 23, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

If you are suspicious of the headrests, stand. Why worry about an activity you can easily avoid AND burn extra calories at the same time. Your mirror will thank you.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 23, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

It's a two-hour commute, bonehead.

Posted by: Commuter | September 23, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Commuter, here's an article on the increase of bed bugs within public transportation systems.

Posted by: Whacky Weasel | September 23, 2008 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Commuter: Dr. Frankowski was pretty clear with me about lice transmission. They crawl head to head grabbing onto the hair. Smart lice are looking for food, and heads are it. So, it's unlikely they'd just be crawling around headrests.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | September 23, 2008 11:49 AM | Report abuse

When my wife's nieces and nephew were small, they had a head lice problem; turned out that her sister hadn't washed the car seat cushion that she used for the toddlers.

Posted by: Alex | September 23, 2008 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Lice? Lice is just the beginning. Concerned parents ought to know! Know what? Well, for a light hearted review on this topic, see Writing Frontier's "Child's Play" at

Enjoy (and comment please).

Posted by: Writing Frontier | September 23, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Well, for a light hearted review on this topic, see Writing Frontier's "Child's Play" at

Enjoy (and comment please).

Posted by: Writing Frontier | September 23, 2008 12:56 PM

It's derivative and it sucks.

Posted by: Unbiased comment | September 23, 2008 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Writing Frontier: More things for kids to do:

Make a kite and try to get it off the ground.
Have a tea party -- real tea but liberal amounts of milk and sugar, vanilla wafers. Dolls in attendance, of course.
Play 'grocery store.' Borrow cans from the pantry, stack them up, play customer and cashier.
Make a slingshot, set up a paper target and try to hit it with pebbles.
In the fall find perfect leaves on the ground to make a center piece or spatter paint outlines on colored construction paper.
Cover a card table with a flat sheet or blanket to make a tent. Bring in your favorite books to read by flashlight; also some provisions like cheese, crackers and fig newtons. Pretend you're snowbound inside the tent.
Make a guitar with a Quaker Oats oatmeal box and rubber bands. Try to play 'music' on it.
Plant a garden patch (flowers or veggies, doesn't matter) and watch something grow, bloom and produce a flower or a vegetable. Doesn't have to be outside, just a big flower pot of dirt will do.
Set up a lemonade stand on a busy corner -- make real lemonade (wash your hands first and wear plastic disposable gloves), have ice cubes, and see how many hot, thirsty people will buy it.
Offer to wash people's cars for a donation -- give the money you make to a charity.
Use your imagination -- get out from in front of a video game, Xbox or television set.

Posted by: Commuter | September 23, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

My daughter got lice for the first time this summer. It took a MONTH before it cleared up. My daughter has long, thick, slightly kinky hair. She did NOT want me to cut her hair (and I didn't want to cut it either)so that was probably one of the reasons it took so long.

We used Rid - didn't work (and we did two treatments)

We used Cetaphil twice - didn't work.

I ended up taking her to her doctor, who prescribed Ovide. It finally got rid of ALL the lice. Still, I spent countless hours through this whole process combing through her hair and picking out nits by hand. The nit combs did not work to remove the nits because if the hair shaft is very fine, the teeth of the comb aren't close enought together to pull the nits out. African-American hair can have a thinner hair shaft than caucasian hair (which is why it tends to be "kinkier"), which is why, my doc told me, that sometimes the nit combs aren't effective on some textures of hair.

All I can say is - I hope I never have to go through that again.

Posted by: Stephanie | September 23, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Does RID work on web trolls, too?

Posted by: Nit Picker | September 23, 2008 3:21 PM | Report abuse

how short would you have to cut hair to get rid of lice? are we talking crew cut here or yul brynner? since lice lay eggs on hair shafts by getting rid of the hair are you getting rid of the problem?

Posted by: quark | September 23, 2008 4:25 PM | Report abuse

My daughter came home from summer camp with more than just memories. As her scalp is itchy anyway, it took a couple of weeks before we figured out the problem. We followed the pediatrician's advice to use Nix - and the next day got a clean comb-through. The day after that, I heard about using olive oil (or the like) to help with the problem. I did a comb-through and found a louse - adult-size. Clearly we had at least one resistant bug. We did the olive oil every 48 hours after that: soaked the head / hair, combed through. Saw one more (adolescent) bug on day 4, then no more. If there is a next time, I may go straight for the olive oil + combing. I think it slows down the bugs, making them easier to catch, it makes the hair easier to comb, and it makes it harder for new nits to adhere.

Just a reminder: CHECK THE WHOLE FAMILY. I checked my husband and son, and my husband checked me. He saw nothing. A week later, I ran the nit comb through my own hair - and found a live adult bug on the second stroke. Nix + olive oil for me, too.

Posted by: I caught 'em too! | September 23, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

We use Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel products and have never gotten lice even when there is an outbreak at school. It's

Posted by: matthew's mom | September 23, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

It's a two-hour commute, bonehead.

Posted by: Commuter | September 23, 2008 11:29 AM

Commuter, Haven't been laid for awhile? Otherwise, there's no reason for your unpleasantness except for . . . lemme think now . . . could it be? . . . that's it! The size of your fat a$$ caused by sitting on the Metro, sitting at your desk, and sitting on the ride home.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 23, 2008 5:00 PM | Report abuse

To the gentleman who complained that schools do not do scalp checks of all children, this practice is no longer recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics, or National Association of School Nurses. I used to do these many years ago, but it is now considered a waste of time because it interferes with class time, and also head lice are not a big health problem (yucky, yes, but not a big deal really). Parents need to check their child's scalp regularly, and treat any scalp condition promptly. School nurses and pediatricians can help to teach parents when needed.

Posted by: school nurse | September 23, 2008 6:29 PM | Report abuse

I highly recommend the comb my friend from England gave me. She calls it a long comb, but it's available here online at
If you comb your child's hair every night for about 2 weeks, lice will be gone and no pesticides!

Posted by: dcmommy | September 23, 2008 7:30 PM | Report abuse

I highly recommend a book "Head Lice to Dead Lice". It details a step by step olive oil and comb process to follow. Both my 4 year old daughter and I had lice this past Spring and were rid of the problem in 2 weeks. Plus, our hair was unbelievably soft and conditioned after the olive oil treatments. You need a nit comb, patience, bulk olive oil (or cetaphil - but olive oil is cheaper), and shower caps to sleep in. Much better than putting pesticides on our scalps.

Posted by: Alexmom | September 23, 2008 8:59 PM | Report abuse

I have gotten a minimum of 2 notes a year from each of my three children's classes about somebody in the class having lice. I have yet to find any on my kids (knock on wood). Unfortunately, I know all too well what they look like and how to find them. We had a very serious infestation a few years ago that took me WEEKS to get rid of. I would come home from my 70 hour work week and pick through heads and do another 4 loads of laundry. Craziness.

Since then I have vowed to never let it get rolling. If my children absentmindedly reach up and scratch their heads, I leap on them like some kind of baboon and give that part of their scalp a quick look. Once I did find a louse - it turned out to be the only one on the kid, and he must have just gotten it that day! He got the full "RID" treatment, of course. But I caught it before I had to spend hours and hours nightly. And more importantly, had to resort to nit combing my own hair, which is very, very hard to do.

Posted by: Bad mommy | September 23, 2008 9:47 PM | Report abuse

The easiest thing to use is Licefreee. It can be found at your local drug store next to the pesticides, but it is homeopathic and chemical free. It uses salt to kill the lice and nits. For more information visit

Posted by: Lisa | September 24, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

I use the Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel line on my 2 children also and they have finially been lice free for the past three years.

Posted by: EMILY | September 24, 2008 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Testing comments.

Posted by: Bob Greiner | September 26, 2008 9:07 AM | Report abuse

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