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. There’s little to stop anyone from setting up shop to sell homegrown anti-lice formulas or comb critters out of kids’ hair. “The louse servicing businesses seem to be spreading faster than the lice themselves,” 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. They’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) don’t carry disease.
That doesn’t stop parents from freaking out—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 14 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.