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‘A significant increase:’ Lice removal companies say they are seeing a surge in infestations

After nearly 15 years in business, Shawnda Walker said the past 12 months has been the busiest year yet for her North York head lice removal company.

“We’ve seen a significant increase,” Walker, the owner of North York-based Nitwits, told this week. “We’re up about 24 per cent over our busiest year.”

The increase in activity this year remains bit of a mystery to the head lice expert.

“We’re not quite sure what to attribute it to. There has been a lot more travel for sure,” she said.

“There are countries that live with lice. There are many countries out there that don’t take it as seriously as North America and… it’s part of their general hygiene. And so with more travel happening now, kids are being exposed to more cases.”

Walker added that some of the local school boards have changed their lice policies in recent years, allowing some children to return to the classroom as they are working to treat the lice infestation.

Toronto Public Health said although public health units have no mandate to address head lice infestations, as they are not considered a public health hazard, the city has a number of tips for parents and caregivers to help prevent the transmission of head lice.

Those tips include discouraging sharing of personal articles of clothing, keeping hats and scarves in coat sleeves and pockets, and properly spacing out coat hooks and lockers at facilities where children congregate.

Dawn Mucci, the founder and CEO of Lice Squad, told CP24 that regularly checking children for lice is the key to reducing the spread.


Products less effective on ‘super lice’

Mucci said for children who end up with lice, there are no over-the-counter products that will be a “magic bullet.”

“We’ve been in business 23 years and people have often come to us with that same complaint, but more so in the last I’d say five to 10 years, it’s becoming more prevalent where there’s product failures,” she said when asked about reports of product-resistant “super lice.”

“When it comes down to it, good old fashioned manual removal with a lice comb is really the only way to go because no matter what you put on the head, you have to physically get all of the lice eggs out.”

Mucci said her company has also seen a big boost in business this year.

“Head lice (cases) have really increased post pandemic, obviously. We have seen a lot of cases of people coming in saying they’ve tried just about everything and they’re still struggling,” she said.

“People are coming in with more severe cases. We have lice eggs being laid on multiple strands of hair. We’re seeing a difference in the lice themselves. It’s almost a mutation of the lice over time. They’re becoming resistant.”

Walker said that she too has noticed an increase in strains of lice that appear to be resistant to over-the-counter treatments.

“We think from research that we’re seeing the bugs have just become more resistant after being dormant,” she added.

Walker said one of the biggest areas where they are seeing an increase in cases in the past year is from overnight camps.

“Last summer, a lot of the overnight camps didn’t do checks. They’ve gotten into the COVID protocols. There had been barely any lice the year before. So I think a lot of them got out of that or they just had counsellors doing it,” she added. “So we saw a significant rise in lice coming out of overnight camps last year.”

She said older teens are also increasingly seeing lice infestations more frequently than in past years.

“We’ve seen a huge uptick in the older generation… the late teens getting lice,” Walker said.

Mucci urged parents not to panic if they find that their child has lice.

She said there are many free resources available online for parents to learn how to deal with the situation at home.

“You can get rid of them if you have the right tools, you have the right education, and you have the time and desire and inclination to get in and do the work,” she said.

Walker said as far as tools go, all parents need is “a proper lice comb, water and conditioner.”

“It’s all about going back to the basics of removal,” she said.

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