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Lice & Easy: Clinic to treat head lice opens in Colorado Springs

September 11, 2017 Updated: September 11, 2017 at 5:11 pm
photo - (AP stock photo)
(AP stock photo) 

As disgusting as head lice are to contemplate, getting rid of them is even worse.

People often grapple with the affliction for months, said Kelli Boswell, a registered nurse who recently opened Lice & Easy, an eradication clinic in Colorado Springs.

The tiny parasite specific to humans latches onto hair, lays eggs called nits and feeds off the body's blood.

Boswell said the condition is so prevalent that she operates three for-profit clinics in Colorado - at 3100 N. Academy Blvd., and in Arvada and Centennial - and plans to open two more.

"It's huge," she said.

But it's not necessarily a growing trend, said Scott Harpin, an associate professor at the University of Colorado's College of Nursing. Harpin calls it a "non-problem" in the scope of pediatric health.

"It's a nuisance and can be a pain for families to take time to treat the little bugs," he said. "But I would never consider it a problem beyond mild embarrassment or temporary ostracization by others."

A child is as responsible for head lice as for a mosquito bite, Boswell said.

"It's not their fault," she said. "They don't go for dirty heads. It got that reputation years ago because you'd see someone with a really bad case, a homeless person or someone not able to take care of it."

Boswell contends that natural methods, such as mayonnaise and olive oil, as well as over-the-counter remedies don't work as they once did and are often ineffective in attacking lice of the 21st century.

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology reported that 42 of 48 states tested had been overrun by "super lice," which are resistant to over-the-counter treatments.

"It's not like when we were little, when the over-the-counter stuff did work," Boswell said. "The efficacy of over-the-counter now is 20 to 40 percent."

Harpin disagrees.

"Absolutely, over-the-counter treatments work," he said, citing two brands as "the preferred method of treating the critters."

At-home remedies normally involve a shampooing, followed by a re-treatment nine days later and daily scalp combing, Harpin said.

Boswell's clinics use a new treatment - a system of forced, heated air delivered through a Federal Drug Administration-approved medical device that dissects and dehydrates the buggers so eggs won't hatch.

Medical studies published in Pediatrics and the Journal of Medical Entomology back the science behind the hot air treatment, Boswell said.

The process takes up to 1½ hours, is 99.2 percent effective and guaranteed to work, she said. The cost: $175. Boswell said her clinic also offers a do-it-yourself kit and other products.

Loren Faye recently took her 5-year-old daughter, Sydney, to Lice & Easy.

"It's almost like being at the hair salon," she said, adding that she posted on social media a photo of her daughter getting the treatment with the caption, "Worst spa day ever."

"I'd heard friends talk about over-the-counter and organic methods, saying the lice kept coming back because they weren't getting rid of the eggs," Faye said. "Those treatments are messy and time-consuming, but the clinic experience was great and fast."

Boswell checks all family members, as lice are transferred by hair strand via head-to-head contact and are contagious.

"That's why you see it on little kids more frequently than adults - we know personal space better - but kids put their heads together, have sleepovers and use each other's brushes," she said.

Lice usually infect children 4 to 14 years old and can be transferred to other household members.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 6 million to 12 million cases occur each year, with 2 percent to 4 percent of the population having head lice at any given time.

"When I go and do head checks at summer camps, if we check 100 kids, we'll find maybe four to five but at least two," Boswell said.

An infestation won't result in hospitalization or cause a disease, she said.

But it sure is repulsive, Faye said.

"Kelli calmed me down at the clinic," she said. "She sent us home with preventive shampoo. I vaccumed, washed the sheets, threw stuffed animals in the dryer, and we were done with it."

Preventive tips from Boswell: Use hair products with peppermint, keep long hair braided or in a bun ("It's hard for lice to grab onto hair that's not loose and flowing," she says), send a pillow and sleeping bag with children for sleepovers or have children sleep on top of a bed, and check routinely for eggs (which resemble sesame seeds) at the base of the neck, the crown and behind the ears.

Infected students do not need to miss school, Harpin said, and parents and teachers "should work to teach children to not share head ware, brushes and combs, and avoid head-to-head contact, especially when there are known cases in school."

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