Ask Your Pharmacist

September 13, 2018
Q:

My son started kindergarten this week, and I’ve heard from other parents that lice can be a problem at school. Do you have any advice on how to help ensure my son doesn’t get lice?

A:

Lice! My scalp itches just hearing the word. It sounds like the thought that these little critters could end up in your son’s hair as he heads off to gain an education may have your head itching! For those unfamiliar, head lice are small insects that make themselves at home on the human head by attaching themselves to the base of human hair. They cannot jump or fly like other insects, so transmission isn’t as easy as many people think, but every year kids go off to school and come home with lice. Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to prevent Lice without isolating your child from other kids. I will, however, offer some tips on how to prevent lice spread, how to identify lice, and what to do to help to stop a potential infestation if you do find lice.

As I mentioned, lice don’t jump or fly and transmission is by direct contact between the hair of children or by sharing things that have touched an infected head like hats, combs, headphones, helmets, pillows or bedding.  Head lice die within two or three days if they aren’t on a human head. Also, it’s important to know that lice live only on humans and cannot survive on cats or dogs. If you hear lice are going around the classroom, advise your children not to share any of the items listed above and check their hair regularly for lice. Many patients ask me whether using tea tree oil will prevent lice. I always respond that it has not been well studied, so we don’t have much evidence that it works. We also don’t have any credible research that says tea tree oil is a safe lice treatment, especially in younger children.

When checking your child’s hair, if you do see any live lice then you will want to see your pharmacist to discuss treatment options. The most commonly used option is Permethrin 1% (NIX and Kwellada-P) because it is extremely effective and cost effective. There have been reports of resistance to Permethrin but not enough to deter my recommendation. Resultz (a rinse) and Nyda (a spray) are also available and are proven, effective options. Neither has the risk of resistance being the reason for treatment failure, but both are more expensive. Whichever treatment you use, I do recommend using a fine-tooth comb to remove all lice and eggs and repeating the treatment in one week just in case any eggs remained and hatched. Any clothing, bedding, hats, that have been worn in the last week should be washed in hot water or placed in a bag for two weeks. Also, check all family members and treat only those who have lice present.

Having lice is not fun, and odds are if you’re reading this you won’t catch lice. It’s children 5-12 years of age who are most likely to catch lice. Lice are in no way related to hygiene if that old myth is still out there. So, if you see your child head scratching, or know there are lice in the school, check his/her head and at the first sign of lice, head to your pharmacy and speak to your pharmacist.

Jared Mactavish (BSc., Pharm) is a pharmacist in Saint John. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.