Dr. Heather Pratt-Chavez offers advice on treating head lice
Reports of drug-resistant “super lice” are spreading across the country, but there’s no need to panic, according to UNM Hospital pediatrician Dr. Heather Pratt-Chavez, who says head lice is more a nuisance for children than a danger.
Credit: John Arnold

Reports of drug-resistant “super lice” are spreading across the country, but there’s no need to panic, according to a UNM Hospital pediatrician, who says head lice is more a nuisance for children than a danger.

“This is not a hygiene issue for children,” says Dr. Heather Pratt-Chavez, an assistant professor at the UNM School of Medicine. “Lice don’t carry disease, and they don’t jump.”

Pratt-Chavez says that she’s received some anecdotal reports from parents who say that over-the-counter medications haven’t been effective in treating head lice in their children, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the lice have become resistant to medication.

She reminds parents that they may need to apply treatments multiple times to get rid of all lice and nits.

“A parent who treats the child one time with an over-the-counter remedy and then finds the lice recur needs to repeat the treatment again,” Pratt-Chavez says.

Pratt-Chavez also recommends that parents try home remedies, “which may be as effective or even more effective than over-the-counter medications.”

“An example of a home remedy would be coating the child’s head with mayonnaise or olive oil or coconut oil,” Pratt-Chavez says. “The most effective treatment is to use a small, fine-tooth comb to comb the nits and the lice out of the child’s head.”

If over-the-counter medications and home remedies aren’t effective, parents should consult their child’s pediatrician about prescription medications that may help.

Pratt-Chavez agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children not be sent home from school because of head lice, which spread most commonly through head-to-head contact.

“With reasonable precautions, kids in classrooms can limit the spread of lice,” she says. "Children should not be excluded from school."