Kids miss nearly 3 million school days because of head lice

Over two and a half million days are being taken off work by parents who are treating their children for hair lice. Around one third of parents in the UK have said that they are taking their children out of school to tackle the problem of head lice. The government however still maintain the position that having a head lice infestation is not a reason to take a child out of school.

NYDA is a type of hair lice treatment and they have recently conducted a study that involved 1,000 parents, all with children under sixteen. The study found that close to 1.8 million children were missing a total of nearly 3 million days of school because there parents were keeping them home because of head lice.

The amount of time that parents are taking off work to treat the condition is having a negative effect on the economy and an estimate puts the financial loss for the country at around £240 million. Even more money is being lost by parents as they are spending well over £20 million a year on head lice treatments.

Four million school children who are under sixteen are experiencing an average of three and a half infestations a year. For those of a primary school age, half of them are experiencing that many infestations. The figures are less for older children as well as those under four. Of the 1000 parents surveyed over 15% of them said that they had caught head lice because of their children.

Treating head lice is expensive so using the right treatment is important, NYDA offers a 92% Dimeticone Dual Formula which kills lice within minutes and the eggs in a matter of hours. The study showed that the main problem was parents are not checking for lice regularly enough – only one third of those surveyed would check their children’s heads weekly.

Unfortunately many parents are unaware of the problems with some head lice treatments. Around a third are using a chemical treatment and many lice are resistant to many forms of chemicals, especially those that are using neuro toxic poisons. NYDA is a more effective treatment as it suffocates the lice rather than poisoning them – something that they cannot become resistant to.

Finally, manufactures and healthcare professionals are failing to take note of and communicate to parents the Department of Health’s recommendations on eradicating lice. The British National Formulary, used by health professionals, states explicitly that “a contact time of 8–12 hours or overnight treatment is recommended for lotions and liquids 7”, but many branded treatments – though not NYDA® – claim to be able to clear head lice in 30, 20 or even just 15 minutes. In practice, this is too short a time to kill louse eggs, which are more stubborn to treat. Indeed, some treatments are unlikely to be able to kill the eggs at all. In these circumstances, a second application after seven to nine days becomes essential to kill newly hatched nymphs (larvae) and thus break the lifecycle before the nymphs reach maturity and in turn start reproducing. (During its 50-day lifespan, a female louse can lay up to 300 eggs.)

Babs Young, Independent Nurse Consultant, Children and Young People’s Public Health and NYDA’s public health expert, commented:

“Although head lice are not considered a major health hazard, infestations can have a physical and psychological impact on children and their families. The results of this new survey make clear that, because head lice infestations are a common occurrence, health professionals and pharmacists need to provide clear information and guidance to parents on the methods of detection and treatment. This should be based on the guidelines from the Department of Health (BNF) which will enable parents to choose the most effective treatments for their child.”

The Department of Health’s recommendations on treatment for head lice:

“Head lice infestation (pediculosis) should be treated using lotion or liquid formulations only if live lice are present. Shampoos are diluted too much in use to be effective. A contact time of 8–12 hours or overnight treatment is recommended for lotions and liquids; a 2-hour treatment is not sufficient to kill eggs. In general, a course of treatment for head lice should be 2 applications of product 7 days apart to kill lice emerging from any eggs that survive the first application 7.”

Which products are parents using in their attempts to eradicate lice?

36% of parents surveyed had treated their children on average 7.13 times in the last three years, yet only 39% reported treatment success in eradicating head lice:

• 29% of those parents had used a chemical treatment containing an insecticide with neurotoxic action. Not only are these treatments ineffective against eggs younger than four days, but in up to 80% of cases, lice are resistant to the insecticides they contain 2.

• 38% of parents had used a treatment that works physically. These lotions contain dimeticone (like NYDA®) or cyclomethicone and work by coating the lice and killing them through suffocation or disrupting their water balance.

• 34% had used mechanical combs (wet combing or ‘bug-busting’), employing a head lice comb and hair conditioner to remove the head lice and their eggs manually over several sessions

• 13% had used natural treatments containing herbal oils e.g. coconut oil. (There is no clinical evidence of efficacy for these measures.)