As lice in some areas have become resistant to conventional remedies, desperate parents are turning to newfangled shampoos and pricey delousing house calls. Aside from a handful of treatments vetted by the Food and Drug Administration, the lice business is unregulated. Thereâ€™s little to stop anyone from setting up shop to sell homegrown anti-lice formulas or comb critters out of kidsâ€™ hair. â€œThe louse servicing businesses seem to be spreading faster than the lice themselves,â€ says Richard Pollack, an entomologist who teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Pediculosis capitis, or head lice, are sesame seed-size parasites that live on human scalps and feed on blood, causing itching in their hosts. Theyâ€™re most common in children and spread by head-to-head contact. Unlike their body lice cousins, which live on skin and clothing, head lice and pubic lice (better known as crabs) donâ€™t carry disease.
That doesnâ€™t stop parents from freaking outâ€”and shelling out cash for professional help. Lice Treatment Center typically charges between $200 and $500 for a house call, says Liz Solovay, who co-founded the business eight years ago with a pediatrician in Connecticut. They now have 100 employees in 14Â states ready to make house calls, and the company will be checking heads at 50 camps this summer. Between nit-picking and selling oil-based treatments, revenue is in the millions, Solovay says.