Donâ€™t Bug Me
A better way to wipe out head lice
By Linda H. Lamb Photographs by Sally Taylor
Two little boys can be a handful, but try coping with two little boys who have head lice. Columbia mom Kim Redd was at her wit’s end: worried, embarrassed and frustrated.
Her sons Hampton, then six, and Manning, five, probably picked up head lice from a playmate who was infested with the pesky parasites. It was absolutely effortless for the boys to get a headful of the tiny bugs, and seemingly impossible to eradicate them.
“I tried over-the-counter treatments,” Redd said. “I tried prescription remedies. I couldn’t get rid of them.”
Her frustration was financial, as well – she estimates she spent about $250 on the anti-lice treatments that didn’t work. Then a friend mentioned a place in Charlotte – Pediatric Hair Solutions – that used a new, scientific method to wipe out head lice. And that’s what finally worked on her kids.
“It was the best thing – 30 minutes and done.”
Two years later, there’s a new Pediatric Hair Solutions in Columbia and Redd is on staff, bringing people good news about their treatment options as well as the compassion that comes from personal experience.
“Once you experience something like this, as a mother, you really feel for people,” she said.
The story of Pediatric Hair Solutions includes scientific/academic research, a case study in entrepreneurship, and the public health concerns of the married couple – a doctor and nurse – who head the company. But at the heart of the business is the story of another compassionate mother: Sheila Fassler.
Fassler, a registered nurse, moved from Ohio to Charlotte with her physician husband in 1996. Their son and daughter never had a problem with head lice. But as a volunteer nurse at her children’s school, she saw it plenty of times.
A major misconception about head lice infestation is that it only occurs in families with poor hygiene, careless health practices and sloppy housekeeping. “That’s just not true,” Fassler said.
“I urge people to be aware of the sensitive nature of having head lice,” she said. “There should not be a stigma about it. Anyone can get head lice.”
And they can be a persistent problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, head lice are six-legged parasites whose only hosts are humans. A single louse is only about the size of a sesame seed. It feeds on blood and cements its eggs to hair close to the scalp. Lice only live about 30 days, but they lay eggs, called nits, that also stick to the hair. Nits hatch in about a week and the cycle starts again.
During her eight years as a school nurse, Fassler noticed that parents increasingly were having a terrible time getting rid of their children’s head lice. Just like some bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, the bugs were gaining resistance to lice treatments.
“Then, manufacturers made strong, then stronger pesticides, resulting in lice who became more resistant to the chemicals,” Fassler said. The CDC describes several home and prescription treatments that can be safe if used correctly – but also notes that some have the potential to irritate skin, be toxic to the brain and nervous system, or even catch fire. An estimated six million to 12 million head lice infestations occur each year in the U.S.
A New Option
Concerned about kids’ health, Fassler began a search for a safer solution. It led her to the University of Utah. Biologists there invented a device they called the LouseBuster, about which a study was published in the 2006 issue of the journal [Pediatrics.] Basically, it uses heated air – sort of like a hairdryer – to dehydrate and kill lice and their eggs.
Fassler received permission to use the device, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and rebranded as the Air Alle. Now she is owner, and her husband, John, is medical director, of Pediatric Hair Solutions. Their other treatment centers are in Atlanta; Greenville, SC; Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, NC; and Columbus, Ohio. To date, they’ve treated more than 4,000 people.
Treatment with the Air Alle device is not cheap. But Pediatric Hair Solutions also offers a less-expensive “traditional” option. The 30-minute Air Alle treatment is $185 per person, which includes an initial consultation, diagnostic head check and 30-minute comb-out. Clients also need to use a nontoxic pre-treatment shampoo ($25) that kills all of the live bugs. The “traditional” package starts at $85 per family and includes consultation, head check, instructions and a demonstration. It comes with enough anti-lice shampoo to treat two people (depending on hair volume) and also includes a follow-up office visit.
The more expensive option with the Air Alle device is “for the person who wants the problem to go away immediately,” Fassler said. She added that many people who come to Pediatric Hair Solutions have already spent money on remedies that didn’t work.
“It’s a nuisance that needs to be addressed, because it won’t go away on its own,” she said. “The whole point of this is to help families during what can be a very stressful and anxiety-provoking experience.”
Pediatric Hair Solutions
217 Pickens St., Columbia, SC 29205
Hours: By appointment