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Battling ‘super lice:’ WSJ story provides solid overview on the treatment options


5 Star


New Ways to Fight Super Lice

Our Review Summary

Head lice treatmentThe treatment of childhood cases of head lice infestations is a popular news media perennial at the start of the school year, and this Wall Street Journal story falls into that category.  It covers the usual elements — prevalence of the infestations among school age children, over-the-counter and prescription treatments, home remedies (which generally don’t work) and reassurance about the pesky but essentially benign health impact. 

This story also takes a look at the rise of “lice-combing” salons and newer medications meant to stand in when older medications are ineffective. We were impressed by the depth of the sourcing, along with the details that helped readers assess any potential conflicts of interest among said sources. One thing we wished had been more detailed: How the evidence stacks up for each of the treatments.


Why This Matters

As the article itself makes clear, head lice infestation is a widespread, unpleasant, and disruptive — albeit relatively benign — condition that costs millions of families money, aggravation and time in efforts to prevent and treat.  Adding to the nuisance of ridding scalps, tresses, clothing and home furnishings of the pests, some of the historic over-the-counter medicinal treatments have lost their power owing to drug-resistant mutations in the lice. Newer prescription medicines are effective, but worry an apparently growing number of parents who work hard to avoid what they consider unnecessary chemical exposure.

Thus, parents are certain to be looking for the best and latest information about treatments.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The article does a good job of noting the cost of the combing salons, as well as cost of the medicinal shampoos and other drug treatments, specifically noting also that insurance may not cover the costs.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The article cites data from a recent review article in a medical journal that outlines the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the medicinal treatments. “The medications have been found to be from 68% to 87% effective after one or two applications. Most don’t require combing,” the story says. We do wish they story explained what “67% effective” means for a typical person, however.

The careful reader will note that the evidence for the effectiveness of the featured combing salons is mostly anecdotal, and it would have greatly strengthened the article to have been more explicit about this, as well as including more solid proof that standard lice medications are not as effective as they used to be.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The article notes that various organizations and experts consider the chemical/medicinal treatments to be highly safe as well as effective.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story needed to be more explicit about the quality of evidence for each of the treatment options mentioned–combing, going to a delousing salon, over-the-counter treatments, prescription treatments. Only the latter are mentioned in the context of research.

The story references a review article that compares the different approaches, but it provides no details on what kind of evidence the review is based on.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease mongering here, and we were glad the story pointed out that there are no adverse physical health effects from lice.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The article does a very good job of noting the conflicts of interest of those quoted.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story explored alternatives.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


Good job on this. It’s clear that businesses that assist with combing are easy to find, and over-the-counter shampoos are even easier.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


What appears to be “new” is the explosion of combing salons and newer prescription shampoos, as well as the review article published last week that evaluates them.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


This story doesn’t appear to rely on a news release.

Total Score: 9 of 10 Satisfactory


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