Head lice are getting harder to kill.
Head lice are getting harder to kill. Contributed

Itching to get back to the classroom

JUST hearing the word lice makes you itch.

You're already starting to scratch, aren't you? Yes it's that time of year: Back-to-school season always means an increase in cases of lice.

Kids spread out over the summer, but then they come back to their classrooms and start exchanging hugs, hairbrushes and creepy-crawly little bugs.

"It's proximity that makes it a cyclical problem," said Rita Becchetti, a supervisor for school health services in Florida.

"On any given day, you find somebody, somewhere that has them."

Not only are they there, but they're getting harder to kill. Over the past several years, lice have steadily grown more resistant to the over-the-counter shampoos used to treat them. Now they're sometimes resistant to prescription products as well. Media reports have dubbed them "superlice".

Before you panic, take a deep breath, say Becchetti and other experts on the creepy critters.

"We need to make sure that parents are aware that some of the things they do to solve lice problems can be more damaging than the lice themselves," said Phil Koehler, an entomology professor at the University of Florida who studies lice.

Although they're itchy and unpleasant, lice don't cause serious health problems. They're also not a sign of being dirty or unkempt.

"People freak out because they think it's a comment on their hygiene, and that's not true," Becchetti said.

"It has such a stigma attached. It becomes such an emotional issue for everybody."

And that makes some people go overboard.

Overdosing children on shampoos that can be toxic or putting dangerous products, such as kerosene, on their heads are among the "remedies" experts have heard about. One prescription medicine, lindane, carries a risk of seizures even when used as directed.

"I'd much rather smother (the lice) than give (children) medicine that has side effects," said pediatrician Dr Cindy Wood White.

White said she has prescribed medication in some cases, but never lindane. While there are no studies that say home remedies work, some of White's patients have had success using tactics such as covering the child's hair in olive oil or vinegar with a shower cap. A hair dryer can also help.

"It all comes down to that nit combing, to get rid of the tiny eggs," White said.

"I suspect you could almost get rid of it just by combing."

A really good lice comb, metal, not plastic is the best bet.