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Headlice, Threadworms and Myths – Oh My!

By Brianne Lowe, 2019 Pharmacy Guild of Australia/Maxigesic Pharmacy Assistant of the Year

Now that the dust has settled from the holiday period, it is time to start prepping for the next seasonal phenomenon… BACK TO SCHOOL! The only downside to this amazing event is that we often see a spike in Headlice and Threadworms. There is no easy solution to either of these ailments and there is a lot of misinformation amongst parents. Our job as trusted pharmacy assistants is to help the customer not only select the correct product but also provide them with accurate information to treat the condition, and advise on prevention strategies.   

Headlice Myths

Children with dirty/oily hair attract headlice – Headlice tend to prefer cleaner hair. When the hair is dirty or oily, they find it more difficult to attach to.  

One treatment is all that is needed – Using a treatment only once (no matter how expensive) will not rid a child of headlice completely. The key to successfully eradicated head lice is to repeat the process 7 and 14 days after initial treatment as the eggs take 7 days to hatch.

Headlice can lay dormant – Lice need human blood to live and cannot survive longer than 24-36 hours without it. Whilst it is a good idea to wash pillowcases, hats and even soft toys the children sleep with, there is no need to fumigate your entire home!

Treatment and Prevention

Select a product that is suitable for the customer but be sure to inform them that the comb through method is a very important step of the treatment process. Any headlice comb and conditioner will do the trick, but time must be taken to comb out every visible egg.  The entire course must be repeated to ensure all eggs have been eradicated.  Moving forward, a defence spray will create an undesirable environment for lice to live and procreate in.  Follow up with some selfcare such as checking the child’s head once a week, pulling long hair up or wearing a hat, and washing pillows and hats in warm water after every treatment. Encouraging children not to share hats or hairbrushes with others will also stop the spread and reinfestation. Parents should inform their school that headlice have been found and treatment has been applied so that other parents are aware of a possible outbreak.

Threadworms

We can often confirm a headlice infestation by simply checking the scalp, however it is harder to confirm if a child is suffering from a case of threadworms. Irritability, itching of the anus or vagina, lack of appetite, a sore stomach or even sighting worms in faeces is a good indication threadworms are present.

Threadworm Myths

Animals are responsible – Threadworms are human specific and cannot survive in the digestive system of cats and dogs.

Place sticky tape on a sleeping child’s bottom to catch worms at night – Whilst worms will exit the anus at night time to lay eggs, this is no longer a suitable way to treat threadworms. Good luck to anyone trying to put tape on a toddler’s bottom before bedtime!

Use a torch to shine in the anus passage to site worms – Again, this is no longer a suitable way to tell if children have threadworms. Not only is it ineffective, it is also quite invasive.

Treatment and Prevention

Much like headlice, treatment does not always kill all eggs with the first dose. Therefore, it is important to treat again 7 days later. The whole family should be dosed before bed and in the morning, all bedding and pyjamas should be washed in warm water.  The best prevention for threadworms is good hygiene. Children’s nails should be cut short and good hygiene should be practised by washing hands regularly.  

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