CLEARFIELD — Families often end up at the Clearfield location of Lice Clinics of America after parents have made multiple attempts to rid their children of lice.
“The usual story ... that comes through the door of the clinic is a mom who has tried three to four treatments at home,” said Charley Gillespie, manager of the Clearfield clinic. “She can’t get rid of it. She keeps thinking that the child’s getting it again, when normally it’s the same (lice life) cycle — it’s just that it went dormant.”
This is because the eggs, called nits, are particularly difficult to kill.
When a female louse is 17 days old, she can start laying four to eight eggs a day. Seven to 10 days later, those eggs hatch. One female louse could lay 64 to 128 eggs during the 16 days she is mature.
“It can go from a mild infestation to a severe infestation pretty much overnight,” Gillespie said.
Some parents even throw away sheets and furniture — which isn’t necessary, Gillespie said. Lice can only live about 24 hours without a human host, so after a family is treated at the clinic, a thorough cleaning or day in a hotel (or both) is enough to prevent the lice from coming back.
“These moms ... they’re usually stressed,” Gillespie continued. “They’re done. They come in here as the last straw.”
Moms aren’t the only ones who are stressed. Children are sometimes bullied, embarrassed or separated from friends because of lice.
One child who had been treated at the Clearfield clinic more than once was forbidden to play with a close friend who had lice, but wasn’t getting treated.
Lice can’t jump and don’t have wings, Gillespie said. The parasite is usually transmitted by head-to-head contact. It’s more common among children because they tend to get closer to each other than adults do.
But once lice hit one member of the family, they usually spread to others.
“If ... a child brings it into the household, 80% of the time, someone else in the household has it too,” Gillespie said. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving that nobody wants.”
There’s also a stigma attached to lice, Gillespie said. People think that getting lice is a matter of poor hygiene.
“That is a myth,” Gillespie said. “It is not a matter of hygiene. Anyone with hair and a scalp is a viable candidate and can get lice.
“... (Lice) prefer cleaner hair than dirty hair because they are sucking lice,” Gillespie continued. “They don’t have teeth.”
Cleaner hair means less residue on the scalp, making it easier for lice to access their food source, human blood. Despite sucking blood, head lice don’t transmit diseases like body lice do.
Gillespie said she met a mom whose 7-year-old daughter was so traumatized after learning that lice were feeding on her blood that she had difficulty sleeping because of it.
Other people, while not traumatized, simply have difficulty sleeping because of the itchiness caused by lice — and because they can feel the insects crawling on their scalp.
James Clark, an adult visitor to the clinic who screened positive for lice, said that having lice had not caused him significant stress, but it’s been pretty inconvenient.
“It’s just really annoying. You’ll be sitting there and just feel something crawl on your head. It’s disgusting,” Clark said. “It’s really hard to focus, though, because ... my head’s constantly itching. It is really, really a pain.”
He has tried more than once to get rid of the lice before coming to the clinic. He tried olive oil twice, vinegar and the standard over-the-counter topical treatment. None of his attempts worked.
This is because lice have become resistant to the active ingredients in over-the-counter treatments.
In a review of head lice treatments published in the journal Pediatric Dermatology in 2016, a group of researchers found that over-the-counter topical treatments that contain plant-derived pyrethrins (an insecticide) or their synthetic counterparts, pyrethroids, aren’t likely to be effective because head lice have developed resistance as a result of “widespread and indiscriminate use.”
The researchers caution doctors to use the remaining prescription topical options judiciously when treating patients so that lice do not become resistant to them, too. So if a child has lice, a visit to the doctor is still a treatment option.
While Lice Clinics of America do offer some topical treatments, their main approach to treating lice is a patented device that kills lice and nits by dehydrating them. The one-hour treatment also includes a comb-out to remove dead lice and nits and a rinse with a topical application.
It’s unique among other treatments in its ability to kill 99.2% of nits. Gillespie said that they have a 100% success rate at the Clearfield clinic, which opened in late 2017.
The FDA-approved device, called AirAllé (pronounced air-a-LAY), looks like a cross between a vacuum and a hair dryer. It operates by blowing concentrated, heated air at the scalp and hair, though it’s not as hot as a hair dryer. The device was developed and patented by scientists at the University of Utah.
The cost of this signature treatment is $175, though in-clinic treatments start $125, Gillespie said.
Through a recently launched national educator partnership called “Schools Without Lice,” teachers, school nurses and other school staff can get lice screenings and treatments for free at participating clinics, including the clinic in Clearfield.
Screenings normally cost $20, which will go toward the cost of full treatment if someone screens positive.
There are payment plans available, and there is also an option to rent a home treatment kit for $20 a day. The kit includes a device that looks like a hairdryer and uses the same technology used in the clinic.
As part of the partnership, staff from local clinics will also visit schools to teach school staff about lice and the myths surrounding them. Gillespie said staff from the Clearfield clinic had visited schools in Davis, Weber and Ogden school districts.
Lice Clinics of America have grown rapidly since starting in 2014, according to a company press release. There are now 350 franchised head lice clinics in 36 countries. The clinics’ parent company, Larada Sciences, is based in Murray Utah.