Head Lice News: Ordinary Conditioner — Yes; Selfie Spread — No

We parents are easy marks when we're in the midst of a panicked battle against a family head-lice infestation. Whether it's herbal "repellents" heavy on rosemary or chemical blasts of insecticidal shampoo, it's hard to say no to any potential weapon when the foe is so tiny, so persistent and so high on the "yuck" scale.

So here's a bit of helpful and potentially money-saving news from the Entomological Society of America. Their headline: Ordinary conditioner removes head lice eggs as effectively as special products. From their press release:

Eggs from head lice, also called nits, are incredibly difficult to remove. Female lice lay eggs directly onto strands of hair, and they cement them in place with a glue-like substance, making them hard to get rid of. In fact, the eggs are glued down so strongly that they will stay in place even after hair has been treated with pediculicides — substances used to kill lice. Some shampoos and conditioners that contain chemicals or special oils are marketed as nit-removal products. However, new research just published in the Journal of Medical Entomology shows that ordinary hair conditioner is just as effective.

The paper, titled "Efficacy of Products to Remove Eggs of Pediculus humanus capitis (Phthiraptera: Pediculidae) From the Human Hair," is here. A bit more: "They found that nits on the hairs that were left completely untreated were the most difficult to remove. Eggs on hairs that had been soaked in deionized water were much easier to remove, as were the eggs on hairs that had been treated with ordinary hair conditioner and with products specifically marketed for the purpose of nit removal. However, they found no significant differences between the ordinary conditioners and the special nit-removal products."

And while we're on the topic, I see a local head-lice expert, Richard Pollack, quoted in an NBC News item with the irresistible headline: "Selfies (Probably) Not Spreading Lice Among Teens, Expert Says."

It addresses a report that teens were spreading head lice when they leaned together to take group selfies. Pollack lists reasons to question the report — among them, that lice are rare among teens.

“This is a marketing ploy, pure and simple,” Dr. Richard J. Pollack, who teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health and runs a pest identification business called IdentifyUS, told NBC News. “Wherever these louse salons open a new branch, there always seems to be an epidemic. It’s good for business."

Reliable data on how many people get head lice each year in the U.S. are not available; however, an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur in the country each year among children 3 to 11 years of age, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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