Over a third (37%) of all of school children under 16 (4.06 million) now experience at least one head lice infestation a year, rising to 48% among four to 11 years-olds, according to a new study. Yet only 39% of parent are managing to successfully get rid of these infestations, even though £23 million2 is spent on over-the-counter and prescription head lice treatments every year.
Of the 1,000 parents surveyed by head lice treatment NYDA® 92% Dimeticone Dual Formula – an innovative treatment clinically proven to kill head lice in under five minutes and their eggs (nits) within 8 hours, It found many parents still failed to check their offspring’s heads regularly for head lice, leaving infestations undetected. Just 35% of parents said they check once a week, 9% check once a month, and 12% say they only check when they notice the child scratching its head. A further 6% of parents said need the motivation of a school letter with a lice warning.
Nearly a third of parents (29%) still use chemical head lice treatments based on neuro-toxic insecticides, to which a high percentage of lice – up to 80% in certain cases – have in fact developed resistance. Many parents seem to remain unaware that this is the case, or that a treatment like NYDA® does not encounter resistance, since it works by suffocating the lice rather than poisoning them.
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 and their eggs 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.”
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.
• 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.)