If you heard the news, go to the “head” of the class.

Hot off the presses is the report that there is a new treatment for the perennial problem that plagues parents and schools everywhere. Lice now have a new enemy. After years of acclimating to traditional treatments and evolving resistant strains, the bugs will now have to contend with a new FDA-approved drug that gives parents a lice-ense to kill.

There is no need to play headgames; the medicine will be available in your neighborhood soon. In the next six months, you will be able to obtain the new 10-minute treatment that will “rid” you of both the lice and the eggs, called nits, which plague even the most prestigious schools. So no more nit-picking! 

Lice are parasites that feed on human blood only, often several times a day. They cannot survive longer than 24 hours without our blood. A louse is happiest on the scalp, but can also be found on eyebrows and eyelashes. Small and pale, lice are often unnoticeable, save for the itching and little raised red bumps they produce. Look for the more obvious nits, which appear as tiny white specs that resemble dandruff flakes, but unlike dandruff don’t flake off. As lice grow, living up to 30 days, they become more obvious.  

These creepy crawlers can become quite attached to you. The adult louse lays three to five eggs a day glued to the base of a strand of hair, just above the scalp. These nits will hatch in seven to ten days and then take another seven to ten days to mature and start the cycle again. As your hair grows continuously, the location of the empty nits along a hair strand can indicate how long these insects have been with you.

In school we are taught to share, and this is the very behavior that will enable lice to thrive. They are most often transmitted through the sharing of hats, combs and brushes, and towels. Direct contact is needed, since lice are limited in their movement. Lacking wings, lice cannot fly, nor can they hop or jump, since they don’t have hind legs either. 

Though a “lous-y” topic of conversation in any home, discussions of lice unfortunately must occur in many families. Don’t be embarrassed if a member of your family is the “hostess with the moistest.” I say hostess, since girls are about twice as common as boys to have lice.

Lice are a very common problem, with six to twelve million cases among three to eleven-year-old children, as reported to the Centers for Disease Control. And I bet that there are many more unreported cases. Annually, 80 per cent of schools report at least one case of these cooties. Luckily, lice do not transmit disease. 

Take heart, your family is not alone; lice are a very ordinary part of many childhoods. So no matter that you are armed with information on the insect, the symptoms, and even the new treatment, I don’t recommend going head to head with these beastie bugs. You will end up looking like a nitwit.


Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.