PHARMACIES and hairdressers in Nelson Mandela Bay are seeing an increase in parents seeking help for children with head lice as this parasite has hit schools with a particular vengeance this year.
Pharmacist Deon Schoeman, owner of the Klinicare pharmacies in the Bay, said the biggest problem with lice was that people were embarrassed about them.
“This time of the year we see an increase in clients seeking help with head lice,” he said. “Having lice is not a scandal. It is not about being dirty.”
Lice are small and are white, beige or light yellow in colour. They live on the scalp, feeding on blood and dead skin.
Schoeman said it was important that schools and teachers be open about it.
“A teacher must write a letter to all parents in a class if a child has lice.
“If one child in the class has lice, every parent must treat their child for it. It does not help if one parent thinks his or her child is immune.”
As a young pharmacist, Schoeman said, he saw too many children harmed by toxic lice shampoos.
“One little girl died. We also saw children whose parents treated their scalps with paraffin, with plant lice poison, and with plastic bags wrapped tightly around their heads,” he said.
“Luckily we now have lice shampoo that is as effective, but without the harmful chemicals,” he said.
Modern lice shampoos just break the surface tension of the scalp and make it impossible for the lice to adhere.
If a child had lice, he said, it was important also to wash pillowcases and soft toys, as lice could adhere to these as well.
“A louse can live for two days away from the scalp. Heat kills them, so wash pillowcases and toys at a temperature higher than 55°C,” he said. Schoeman also advised that pillows be stashed in a tightly knotted plastic bag to suffocate any other lice.
Before trying any lice shampoo, he said, parents could rinse the child’s head with a mixture ofhalf vinegar and half water, then comb it with a fine-tooth comb.
Treatment for lice had to be completed.
“I cannot stress this enough: you have to be patient and you must be persistent.”
Schoeman said lice were also frequently seen in old age homes. “Lice is transferred between people in close contact.”
Hairdresser Sharon O’Brien said white children had lice more often than black youngsters.
“I am disturbed that the Health Department’s clinics do not provide lice shampoo for poor children,” she said. “I offered to cut a number of boys’ hair when they had lice. It is not nice to see.”
As long as hairdresser Lisa James could remember, children had always had a problem with head lice at this time of year.
“Lice love clean hair as they can attach to it very easily. My clients complain that no matter what lice shampoo they use, the lice always come back. I recommend [adding] a tablespoon of acetone [nail polish remover] to shampoo. Wash hair very well, then rinse. Next, apply conditioner with a fine-tooth comb.”
Earlier this year experts warned that lice season this year could be a difficult one as they found an increase in super lice, a species that had become immune to traditional lice-removal shampoos.
In a study published in the March issue of the Journal of Medical Entomology, scientists said these parasites were almost completely immune to traditional lice removal products.
This was because people were not using lice-removal shampoos and sprays for long enough, or not using enough of them. – Estelle Ellis