Do You know What Head Lice Look Like and Why It's Important to Say No to Pesticides to Treat Them?

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There are situations where the benefits of pesticides may outweigh the risks, but head lice treatment for children isn't one of them.

The only thing worse than being told your child has head lice, is realizing that you wouldn’t know a head louse if you saw one.

The National Pediculosis Association (NPA), a non profit health and education agency since 1983, continues to eliminate the need for such a message by providing parents with accurate and helpful information.

While there are many issues around head lice that warrant more research, the NPA reports that there is sufficient evidence that the chemical approach to controlling head lice has failed. Like bacteria and antibiotics, head lice have become resistant to the most widely marketed products.

NPA reminds consumers that reliance on ineffective pesticides makes no sense and jeopardizes the person applying the product, the person receiving treatment and the environment. Such unwarranted and often repeated use of pesticides for lice negatively impacts families and entire communities.

Directives for parents to go ahead and use products that won't work make for bigger

problems than the lice themselves by creating chaos, ongoing infestations, and extended school absences.

Unsuspecting families experience what is described in the following e-mail message to the NPA. Quoted verbatim, the plea for help in this mother's message says it for those who have yet to be warned:

"My daughter keeps getting head lice. We are having a horrible time getting rid of it this time, two weeks and counting. What is even worse is now I have it too! The shampoo is not working. The lice are well and thriving unfortunately for us. We have missed two weeks of school, we can't afford to miss any more. They have a no nit policy. We have no support, no more money for lice shampoos and hope of beating lice is about gone as well. I am so depressed about all this. This is like a last straw here. We need help badly, can you help us please? Thank you in advance for your time and understanding."

Such parents end up spending time and money to needlessly expose their children and themselves to pesticides.

This includes the use of lice sprays that also contain the pesticides to which the lice have been scientifically proven resistant. Lice sprays are ill-advised.

Head lice are human parasites, not environmental pests. Vacuuming is the totally effective safe alternative to sprays. Child care providers, school administrators and parents can be misled by product advertising to believe it is necessary to spray a child's environment for head lice when it isn't.

The potential for harm is immeasurably worsened because they are packaged for use with pesticide shampoos and because too many households have family members who are even more vulnerable because of asthma, allergies or other medical conditions.

The Deirdre Imus Foundation for Pediatric Oncology in Hackensack, New Jersey ( lists pesticides as one of the 5 major environmental threats to children.

The others are lead, air pollutants, environmental tobacco smoke and drinking water contaminants.

The actual number of potentially toxic exposures for children is daunting. Chemical agents are researched as though they are the only one that occurs. Some appear even scientifically acceptable when studied one at a time.

Such standards deny the realities of the world in which we live and the seemingly endless exposures for an individual child.

There may be situations where the benefit of pesticides may outweigh the risks, but head lice treatment isn't one of them.

Why are ineffective head lice products still available on the drug store shelves? The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved most of these treatments decades ago but does not require that they be re-evaluated for the development of resistance.

This is unfortunate because lice resistance is predictable and because medical science has since determined the seriously negative effects of pesticides on children.

Yet kids with head lice continue to be directly exposed in spite of newer pesticide protection legislation and advances in the quality of lice and nit removal tools.

The NPA website also advises against the use of prescriptions for treating lice. Lindane has been banned in California and carries FDA's black boxed strongest warnings.

Malathion is also made available by some pediatricians who prescribe it after parents call to complain that they have used over-the-counter drug store products without success.

These prescription pesticides are unwisely offered as a "last resort", regardless of the fact that their inherent health risks increase dramatically when they follow the use of other pesticidal agents.

Instead, parents should stop the use of chemicals at the earliest sign of failure and be advised not to seek others. Manual removal of lice and nits is the best option whenever possible.

NPA's mission of protecting children is also its mantra: “We can’t remove every potentially harmful exposure from a child’s life, making it imperative that we remove those that we can.”

The NPA wants parents to know what to look for and encourages them to screen for head lice and nits regularly, detect them early and remove them manually and thoroughly.

Complete manual removal of lice and nits remains the safest approach for children and the bottom line for controlling head lice.

Infestations identified early can be ended with far less difficulty and without pesticides.

This is the ideal means of prevention supported by the National Pediculosis Association.

The NPA developed the LiceMeister comb to help families accomplish this. Since it was made available in 1997, the comb has become known as the gold standard.

Proceeds from the comb support the NPA's charitable efforts including the number one educational website on head lice, is where parents learn how to screen, comb and find answers to their most frequently asked questions.

The NPA's website is also where school nurses and administrators obtain free downloads of independent educational materials, families with children at higher risk learn about Jesse's Project, and kids find a special learning section for them too. also provides a registry for the public to report outbreaks, product problems, and adverse reactions.    

If you are one who wouldn't know a louse if you saw one, free Critter Cards are available (while supplies last) to show you what an actual head louse looks like and how to distinguish between nits (lice eggs), dandruff and hair debris.

A free Critter Card can be requested by visiting the NPA's web site,

“Because it’s not about lice, it’s about kids.”

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