ST LOUIS PARK, Minn - 'Tis the season when kids are bringing notes home from school warning of head lice outbreaks, and many parents are turning to home remedies and products that promise to prevent the nasty bug.
"Lice is always something that freaks everyone out, even myself as a pediatrician," said Dr. Lynne Fiscus, at Fairview Clinics Eagan location.
The bugs infest the scalps of 6 million to 12 million U.S. children ages 3 to 11 every year, estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Fiscus found lice in her 2-year-old son last year. She caught it too. She tells patients to consult their physician with questions.
The CDC recommends the use of over-the-counter or prescription lice medicine. After following directions on the box for applying and rinsing the medicine, the CDC recommends using a fine-tooth nit comb to remove lice and nits from hair shafts.
St. Louis Park based Ladibugs, a lice removal business, created a peppermint based prevention serum that's growing in popularity for parents who want to ward off lice without strong medications.
"Mint has long been known to be an insect repellent," said Rachel Knutson, the Ladibugs co-owner. "Mint really does the trick as far as keeping and warding off the head lice it works very well."
Knutson started the business with another mother, Lisa Rudquist, when both of their children caught lice at school. As registered nurses, they set out to find natural treatments, which are sold in Great Clips and Kids Hair locations and online.
"There is neem oil and tea tree oil," said Knutson. "Lice will find that oil somewhat offensive so they will crawl away from that scent."
Licefreee, is another option considered by parents. The non-toxic lice treatment line, also started by a mother, includes a preventative shampoo made with tea tree oil. The company sells the product at Walmart, Walgreen's and Dollar General.
Researchers at Mayo Clinic point to some studies show rosemary, citronella, eucalyptus and lemon grass may repel lice, but warns these products aren't regulated by the FDA, so there are no guidelines for safe usage.
Knutson says if parents are going to use essential oils, use sparingly on the nape of the neck. They can be drying on kids' scalps.
Dr. Fiscus says more important than the type of treatment is using the best tool of all - a lice comb.
"The continual combing through of the hair to make sure all the eggs are removed doing on a daily basis after whatever treatment you use," said Dr. Fiscus.
Dr. Fiscus shaved her son's head as a precaution, and sought a lice removal business for her own hair. She emphasizes parents should not be ashamed if they or their child has lice. It's not a hygiene issue, but rather caused by head to head contact or sharing of hats and clothing. Children with head lice may complain of itching. Try to check your child's head daily when an outbreak is happening.
"That is the biggest message out there if parents can remember to do because once a child brings lice home, 65 percent of moms are going to get it, and 85 percent of siblings so if you can catch it early," said Knutson.
Knutson says if you comb your child's hair with a lice comb, swipe on a white paper towel. With an infestation, you can see dark bits or brownish bugs on the paper towel the size and color of a flake of black pepper.
Adult lice are tan or grayish in color and crawl quickly. They use hook like claws on the end of each of their six legs to hold tightly onto the hair, according to the CDC.
Adult lice can live about 30 days on a person's head, but will die within one or two days if they fall off the person, the CDC says.
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