It may difficult to understand how a do-it-yourself lice treatment consisting of a plastic bag and mayonnaise resulted in the death of a Massachusetts toddler, but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
According to police reports, an 18-month-old little girl suffocated to death after being put to bed with the homemade lice treatment.
The do-it-yourself remedy involved saturating the head with mayonnaise and covering the hairline with a plastic bag to hold in the mayonnaise moisture. Unfortunately, sometime during the night, the plastic bag slipped down over the child’s face and she was unable to breathe.
The do-it-yourself lice treatment responsible, known ironically as the suffocant treatment, is designed to make the hair an unfavorable environment for lice, which prefer a dryer habitat where they can move freely about and breathe easily. T
he Centers for Disease Control indicate there are no scientific studies to back the suffocant treatment, but many people have reported favorable results.
Materials from the Minnesota Department of Health outline the process, but specifically state not to leave the suffocant do-it-yourself lice treatment on overnight due to risk of human suffocation.
This is a warning many people do no heed, however, as recommended treatment time is around 8 hours, and 8 hours while sleeping often seems more appealing than 8 hours during the day when other things need to be done.
“Cover the hair with a close-fitting shower cap,” state the Department of Health literature. “Leave the cap on for eight hours (the exact time needed to kill the lice is unknown. Some people have reported success with shorter times). Avoid treatment while the infested person sleeps, as the cap may become a suffocation hazard. Remove the shower cap and wash the hair with shampoo to remove most of the suffocant (petroleum jelly may be hard to remove, and we are not certain of the best method to do this, but commonly suggested methods include rinsing with a mild degreasing soap like Dawn®, or baby oil).”
The dangers of not following directions precisely are sadly illustrated in the death of the Massachusetts toddler. According to a report from Reuters, no formal charges have been made against the child’s caretakers, but a formal investigation is underway.
Due to the risks and unproven efficacy of do-it-yourself lice treatments, health officials recommend commercial products that can be purchased without a prescription.
Most of these treatments are shampoo-like and contain a synthetic insecticide that typically kills all adult lice with the first treatment. After 7 days the process can be repeated to catch any new lice that may have hatched after the initial treatment.