Healthbeat Report: Erasing the Stigma of Lice

March 13, 2009 10:30:11 AM PDT
Parents who hear their child has lice may experience emotions from guilt to anger to panic. But a movement is underway to erase the stigma often associated with lice.Some school districts are becoming less nitpicky. And there are even professionals who can get rid of the critters in an unlikely setting.

VIDEO: Dr. Amy Weiler answers questions about head lice

It has the look and feel of a luxury hair salon. But look closer. There's no hair being cut or colored.

Hair Fairies is an upscale boutique in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood and it's staffed with professional nitpickers.

For the young clients, there are distractions.

"It's fine because I get to watch a movie and I'm not bored," said Martha Carlson, Hair Fairies client.

And for frustrated parents like Araceli Ramirez letting someone else take over is a relief.

"Winter break she was fine, she goes back to school then they are back. It's so frustrating," said Araceli Ramirez, mother.

That frustration means big business.

The salon has no magic potion but what they offer is time, patience and non-toxic products. It the same tedious job parents would have to do at home but lice is all they specialize in at the salon.

It comes at a cost - $95 dollars per hour. That means a parent could spend up to $300 and more.

"We are actually giving control back to parents because generally they don't know what to do. They don't know what they are looking for and they need to be educated," said Kelly Kraft, manager, Hair Fairies Chicago.

Many people wonder if lice have gotten worse. But experts say the problem is lice have built up resistance to prescription drugs and over the counter remedies.

Compounding pharmacist tom marks says that's why he started mixing and selling his own non-toxic lice treatment.

"The comb it into their hair cover their head with a cap and wear it over night," said Tom Marks, R.Ph., Martin Ave. Pharmacy, Naperville.

But the best protection may be knowing what to look for: nits which are the eggs appear as yellowish-white dots that stick to the hair shaft.

Live lice are harder to spot but when they are combed out. And while they may be creepy to see. Health experts say they don't carry disease and are really only a nuisance. They don't jump or fly. They only crawl and can be spread through direct contact such as hugging or sharing a hair brush.

"We don't have to panic and we don't go through this extensive taking kids out of class and having them miss school to get rid of head lice," said Ellen Wolff, RN, Dist. 203 Health Services.

Ellen Wolff is with Naperville School District 203 and, like other districts, it now following the lead of the CDC and other health organizations that say it's time to get rid of the stigma because too many children have been missing school unnecessarily.

So more schools are allowing youngsters with just lice eggs to stay in class while receiving treatment at home.

That's because the eggs can take more than a week to hatch or never hatch at all. But if students so have live lice, they are still sent home immediately.

Relaxing school policy has been somewhat controversial but public health experts say it makes sense.

"Nits themselves are not a risk factor for a child spreading lice around," said Wolf.

Critics caution most lice removal businesses are unregulated and many don't have to prove their products are safe or effective.

There are also lice removal home remedies. But before you try anything you should contact your healthcare provider to see what's safe.

On ABC7 news at 11 a.m. on Friday, March 13, we'll discuss the issue with a family physician.

Hair Fairies
2336 N. Clark St.
Chicago, Il.

Amy Weiler, DO
Family Medicine
Swedish Covenant Hospital
Comprehensive Wellness Care
2825 North Halsted
Chicago, Il.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

American Academy of Pediatrics:

National Association of School Nurses: