The heady truth about lice

We give you the facts on lice

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Got lice? Uh-oh. Do you need to scrub your kids more often? Does the house need fumigating? To nitpick fact from fiction, we talked to Noni MacDonald, a paediatric infectious disease specialist in Halifax, who co-wrote the current Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) statement on lice.

Rumour Dirty kids get lice.

Truth Lice live in any hair — clean or otherwise. What they do like to do is hide among the strands, then suck blood from the scalp. So whether you wash your hair daily or monthly, these little creatures can come crawling.

Rumour Signs of nits mean you have a case of lice.

Truth You can see 100 nits and your child may not have lice. Nits are eggshells, which can host live larvae or nothing. They attach first close to the scalp, so if you find them up the hair shaft, chances are the fellas have already hatched and are having a party in your child’s hair or have jumped ship to another head. Only a moving louse confirms an active case of lice.
Rumour If your kid has lice, he’ll have a very itchy head.

Truth Although an itchy head is the most common symptom, some people take longer to become sensitized to louse saliva, which causes the reaction. So your child may have lice, but not be itchy right away. The CPS advises examining the head under good lighting (wetting the hair first makes detection easier). Look for nits and live lice by parting hair in small sections and checking from one side of the head to the other. Look closely at the scalp. The trickier-to-spot lice are usually found there, at the bottom of the neck and behind the ears.

Rumour You need toxic stuff to get rid of lice.

Truth While your instinct may be to go into lockdown, lice do not carry disease so are, at best, an irritation — not a serious medical problem. But no one wants a head full of creepy crawlers. In Canada, there are three approved insecticides to treat lice. According to the CPS, pyrethrin and permethrin are safe, but lindane can be toxic and should not be used on children younger than two years. The CPS has also approved a non-insecticidal product, but it has only been studied and approved for use in Canada on children four years and older. For all products, follow instructions precisely and limit contact to the affected area only.

Nicer lice killer?

Got a child with lice but hate the idea of putting something poisonous on her scalp? So did Leanne Preston, CEO and founder of Wild Child. About 12 years ago, the Australian mother of three was looking for a safe remedy for her daughter’s lice. When she couldn’t find anything, she decided to make her own. Many years and much work with scientists later, Quit Nits, a natural, non-toxic lice treatment made from ingredients found in the Australian Outback was created. Quit Nits is available at Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmaprix.