Putting a halt to the back-to-school head lice cycle

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Putting a halt to the back-to-school head lice cycle
Putting a halt to the back-to-school head lice cycle. Alicia Vitarellli reports during Action News at 5 p.m. on August 28, 2019.

HAVERTOWN, PA. (WPVI) -- Back to school time brings the return of many things.

Unfortunately, outbreaks of head lice in schools are one of them.

A local expert shares her tips on what works, what doesn't, and how to prevent a seemingly endless cycle of problems.

Ilene Steinberg of the Center for Lice Control in Havertown says she gets calls for help every September.

"It happens about 2 weeks, 3 weeks into the school year," says Steinberg.

She says outbreaks actually brew over summer, with more sleepovers and casual time between kids, and less checking.

So she urges parents to check BEFORE classes start, especially if the school had a problem last year.

"I'm looking here and here. I'm looking for those eggs," she notes as she combs through a child's hair.

Eggs, or nits, anchor themselves on hairs, a quarter of an inch to 2 inches from the scalp.

"Run your finger along the hair shaft, and if you feel a bump on the hair that's going to feel like a tiny knot, that is probably something to be concerned about," she advises.

But also be on alert for the other forms head lice take during their life cycle.

The insects crawl, not jump from one scalp to another.

And it only takes 3 to 5 seconds of head-to-head contact - just long enough to take a selfie.

"It doesn't matter - clean hair, dirty hair, curly hair, straight hair, white hair, brown hair.. pink hair," says Steinberg.

She says most so-called prevention products only work for a few hours.

And head lice have become resistant to permethrin, the active ingredient in most commercial products.

She says dimethicone still works.

"Dimethicone inundates and suffocates the bugs on contact," she notes.

After a product is applied, a child's hair must also be thoroughly combed to remove the bugs and nits.

And she says 2 follow-up treatments are a must, to kill any remaining eggs.

Steinberg says you can lessen the chance of an infestation by 'narrowing the target' - by putting hair into a ponytail or bun.