loosening lice and breaking their grip on hair
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Loosening lice and breaking their grip on hair

Scientists have found that, contrary to the popular myths about hair texture, hygiene and social background, lice can affect anybody’s hair. Young children are particularly susceptible, primarily because they share things like hats and hairbrushes, which can harbor lice.

Craig N. Burkhart, M.D. M.S.B.S., leading author of a study that appeared in the July 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, and a member of staff at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Dermatology, has said that lice can infest anybody. Lice are equal opportunity infectious agents, they affect people of all ages, sexes, races and socioeconomic levels. Therefore, preventive measures against lice infestation should be taken by everyone.

Craig N. Burkhart, along with Craig G. Burkhart, M.D., M.P.H., Clinical Professor, Division of dermatology, Medical University of Ohio at Toledo, extensively reviewed research work on lice and discussed the current and prospective treatments in the field.

The researchers have observed that the available treatments used to kill the eggs of lice are not that effective and, perhaps, the lice have attained some resistance against the chemicals used in these treatments. Consequently, there is an increasing prevalence of lice in certain locations throughout the world. It is already known that lice, like many other insects, apply a protective coating, or glue as it often called, over their newly laid eggs. This is also sometimes referred to as the nit sheath. This coating is made up of a protein that is similar to that of human hair, and thus serves to protect the developing larva. However, this means that anything that would be effective at dissolving the nit sheath also would dissolve the hair shaft.

The Doctors have suggested that a treatment that could prevent the glue from solidifying on the nit sheath would prevent the egg from adhering to the hair. Such treatment would be beneficial to both people with lice infestation and those who are trying to avoid acquiring one. Alternatively, a liquid paraffin preparation, similar to that used to prevent bird eggs from hatching, also could possibly suffocate the larvae by severely decreasing the flow of oxygen to them. The researchers are anticipating that new treatments would be able to break the bonds that attach the egg to the hair shaft and thus allow for easier nit removal, rather than insecticidal treatments that kill the lice and their eggs. Nevertheless, a new treatment undergoing study, the insecticide, ivermectin, in a topical form in an oil base also shows great promise.

There are some recommendations from the scientists for the parents of young children to take care and avoid the attack of lice. First of these recommendations is to avoid head-to-head contact at school and also at home with other children. The second recommendation cautions not to share combs, brushes, hats, scarves, bandanas, ribbons, barrettes, hair ties or bands, towels, helmets, or other personal care items with anyone else. This should be done strictly whether they have lice or not, to greatly reduce the possibility of lice infestation. The third and last recommendation is not to lie on bedding, pillows, and carpets that have recently been used by someone with lice. Parents should examine members of the household who have had close contact with a person who has lice every three or four days.

Lice are a potential threat for almost everybody and particularly for young children, but care and some preventive measures can reduce the risk of infestation. Studies that help to understand the working more can help a lot in the future of prospective treatments.

These recommendations are provided by the American Academy of Dermatology, which was founded in 1938, and is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatological associations, and undertakes many programs to make people aware about the effects of lice and the treatments available to avoid it.


Loosening lice and breaking their grip on hair references

  • Burkhart CN, Burkhart CG. Head lice: scientific assessment of the nit sheath with clinical ramifications and therapeutic options. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005 Jul;53(1):129-33. PMID: 15965432
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