New Torrance clinic fights increasingly hard-to-kill lice
Scott Weiss only recently opened the South Bay area’s first lice-treatment center, and already he’s rid clients from 22 regional schools of the human-scalp parasites.
Students from Bishop Montgomery and St. Joseph’s Catholic schools, West High in Torrance, Chadwick Day School on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and 15th Street Elementary in San Pedro all were treated with a machine Weiss employs — not harsh chemicals — to kill the hardy insect.
Lice infestation is widespread and growing, affecting 1 in 20 children ages 5 to 17 and nearly always spreading to their mothers and other family members.
Having adapted to popular over-the-counter products such as Nix Cream Rinse and RID Lice Killing Shampoo, lice are proliferating among middle and high school students — especially those who are social and take close-up group selfies.
A study published in March in the Journal of Medical Entomology found that traditional products are only 28 to 55 percent effective. New products like Ulesfia, Natroba and Sklice have been brought to market but the old treatments “continue to dominate the louse treatment market as inexpensive and easily obtainable,” according to the study.
Despite their prevalence, the discovery of a lice infestation is usually met with shock, confusion, tears and embarrassment.
“Most girls come in crying,” Weiss said. “When they leave, their sense of worth and confidence is better. They’ll do anything to make it go away.”
Weiss’ center is one of 110 nationwide Lice Clinics of America that use an FDA-cleared AirAlle medical device to kill the bugs without harsh chemicals. It applies a constant stream of warm air to dry out the nits, or eggs, killing them. Topical products also are used to destroy live lice by blocking their nostrils. Adults are easier to get rid of than the sticky, tough-shelled nits.
Eric Camara brought his 10-year-old daughter Katelyn to the Torrance office on Friday after the family spent two days trying to clear the bugs with over-the-counter treatments that were time-consuming and not very effective.
“It just came out of nowhere,” Camara said. “My wife woke up and showed me her hair. I saw the bug. I was just in shock. She started crying.”
Katelyn first noticed the bugs on her hairbrush: “I saw one and I was like ‘ewwww.’ ”
Her grandmother warned that lice are a bad omen.
Misinformation abounds about the bugs: that they’re caused by dirty hair and only affect poor people — both untrue, as lice prefer clean hair and don’t discriminate by age, race or class. They simply crawl to the nearest warm human scalp (they don’t infect animals).
The Camaras found the Torrance lice-treatment clinic online and showed up tired and emotional after trying to kill them with drugstore products and pick the eggs out individually.
“It’s embarrassing,” Eric Camara said. “I thought, ‘people will look at me like I’m a bad father.’ I never thought she’d get this.”
Weiss said the stigma is very common. Even when he calls schools to report that their students are having an outbreak, nurses routinely don’t believe him, he said. And families are likely to keep the information to themselves out of embarrassment.
“You can do all the cleaning you want, but, once they’re on your head, they won’t go away,” said Weiss, who also has an office in Los Alamitos. “They can infect anyone. Seal Beach and Los Alamitos are my biggest cities.”
He opened the Los Alamitos office last year, after his wife and three children suffered a lice infestation and struggled to find a product that would actually remove them once and for all.
“I watched my whole family cry and scream for three weeks,” he said. “We didn’t know the bugs had become resistant. My wife missed work and, through research, found out about the AirAlle device.”
They had to travel to San Diego for the treatment. So, shortly after their ordeal, they got into the lice-killing business, opening the Los Alamitos office last year and the Torrance clinic last month.
“The only thing that kills the eggs is this AirAlle method, or picking them out one by one,” Weiss said.
On Friday, clinic technicians directed the AirAlle’s warm air onto patches of Katelyn’s long, shiny black hair for 30 minutes at a time until the nits were “boiled like an egg,” as Weiss puts it.
Each female lays six eggs a day for several weeks until she dies, allowing for exponential growth. But the treatment is comfortable, and Katelyn waited out the procedure playing Subway Surfers on her phone.
Head-to-head contact with an infected person is the main way lice are spread. Weiss advises using natural methods to kill live lice. Nits, however, need to be picked out individually or killed with the AirAlle machine.
“When people call me, it’s a stressful time in their life. The same questions are asked every time, and the number one thing they say is: ‘I went to CVS and got products and it still hasn’t gone away.’ ”
The Torrance Lice Clinics of America is at 2050 Artesia Blvd. in Torrance.