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Head Lice, Parents Face Off in Battle

If you're a parent who has ever fought the head-lice battle, you can sympathize with other parents fighting it. But what if you find yourself treating your child time after time because the little bloodsuckers keep coming back?

"You can't just treat your child with over-the-counter lice treatment and think you've solved the problem," said Jeanette Fleming, a University of Georgia county extension agent in Pickens County.

"You have to apply the treatment, manually remove all the nits (eggs), clean the child's brushes and combs and launder the child's bed liners, scarfs, hats," she said. "You should also vacuum any upholstered furniture or car seats the child's head has touched."

Fleming knows firsthand that lice are a big problem. Last fall her county office, like many across north Georgia, had many calls from desperate parents.

Don't Treat Unless You See Lice

"We were having a terrible time, and I knew we weren't the only ones," Fleming said. "We had one parent come in and her child's hair was as dry as straw from all the treatments she had applied. And the child still had lice."

Parents need to know when and how to treat for head lice.

"Lice treatments are actually pesticides designed to kill lice," she said. "We had parents telling us they were treating their children as a precaution. These treatments aren't like dandruff shampoo. You can't keep applying them over and over. If you do, you're putting your child's health in danger."

Fleming says lice-removal treatments like Nix and Rid are made for treating lice, not as preventive treatments.

"Never use these products unless you see lice or nits in your child's hair," she said. "And then follow the directions precisely."

Remember: Lice Treatments Are Pesticides

Always apply the lice-removal medication by wetting and rinsing the child's hair over a sink.

"Many parents are applying the treatment while the child is in the bath or shower," Fleming said. "This way, the treatment is washed down the child's body, which allows it to penetrate the skin. This is a pesticide. Never let it contact your skin, other than the treatment area."

Even if you treat your child's hair, there is no guarantee that will solve your problem.

"More and more health experts believe head lice are developing immunities to the chemicals in these treatments," Fleming said. "That's why we tell parents to sit down and manually remove the lice and nits with a nit comb."

Don't Resort to Dangerous Home Remedies

Out of desperation, some parents try home remedies such as kerosene.

"Using kerosene is much more dangerous than using pesticides," said Fleming. "And other home remedies like mayonnaise and Vaseline are hard to wash out and leave hair greasy and unmanageable."

Fleming does recommend using olive oil to help remove nits.

"Just rub the olive oil into the hair, leave it a few minutes and begin removing the nits with a lice comb, baby safety scissors or your fingernails," she said. "It's best to divide the hair into sections so as not to miss any nits."

To help educate Pickens County parents, Fleming enlisted the help of senior 4-H'er Miranda Brooks.

Brooks researched head lice and volunteered to help with head checks at the local primary school. Then she designed a prevention-and-treatment display booth, "Don't Let a Louse Get a Head." The display won first place at the Coosa Valley Fair last year.

Brooks also presented a program to the PTA and wrote an article for the local newspaper.

"Head lice are one of the most misunderstood of human parasites," Brooks said. "People think having head lice labels them as dirty and unkempt. But head lice are invading the most stylishly cut hair, the finest homes and the most expensive private schools."

Brooks won a first-place state 4-H award for her project on head lice.

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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