Parents use kerosene and dangerous pesticides to fight lice

Lice treatment product sold in a pharmacy in Latakia governorate - October 2023 (Enab Baladi/Linda Ali)

Lice treatment product sold in a pharmacy in Latakia governorate - October 2023 (Enab Baladi/Linda Ali)


Latakia – Linda Ali

The 34-year-old Omaima discovered that her seven-year-old son had lice on his head, so she complained to the school administration in the city of Latakia to take proper procedures to stop this scourge due to overcrowded classrooms and lack of personal hygiene among students due to the deteriorating economic situation.

The government employee immediately began the arduous and expensive treatment journey to save her son’s head.

The first stage of treatment was cutting the hair of the seven-year-old child, who was in the second grade of primary school, as his blonde hair reached almost to his ears. She noted that the light color of his hair made her very tired while she was removing the eggs.

Omaima bought a box of anti-lice shampoo from the pharmacy for 18,000 Syrian pounds, not exceeding 250 ml, in addition to a concentrated spray for 28,000 pounds, meaning she paid 46,000 Syrian pounds.

The woman said that the lice problem has increased the family’s many expenses, as 46,000 pounds is equivalent to a quarter of her salary, and the minimum government salary is approximately 186,000 pounds (about $13).

​​($1=14,000 SYP) according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar.

The prices of supplies for eliminating lice increased by about three times compared to last year, as the price of a bottle of shampoo was 6,000 pounds, and a bottle of concentrated spray was 9,500 pounds.

A pharmacist, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that prices are variable, and she expects them to rise again during the next few years, especially due to the current increase in demand for the product.

She stated that she asked the representative for more quantities, and he told her that he could only secure a small quantity of them, adding that he told her that there would be an imminent price increase.

For the third time

Ahlam, 36, said that her heart was breaking as her 11-year-old daughter cried as she cut her long hair because she was infested with lice.

The Jableh-based teacher said that this was the third time her child had been infected with lice, and although she preferred not to cut her hair, she could not find any other solution, especially since the school season was still in its infancy.

Ahlam said that even if she got rid of lice, there was no guarantee that she would not be infected again, especially since her child was infected with it twice last year.

The high cost of treatment is worrying Ahlam, and this was one of the most important reasons for her decision to cut her daughter’s hair. The bottle of spray that she bought for 28,000 Syrian pounds was only enough for her once, and she had to do it again after ten days, as the doctor told her, while today, after cutting the hair, one package was enough for two treatments, and she no longer needed to pay for two packages.

“Our life is very difficult. My heart breaks for my daughter, but what should I do? I really don’t have the financial capacity,” the teacher added.

Overcrowded schools

The School Health Department affiliated with the education directorates in the governorates used to provide free lice treatment in schools, but since last year, it has stopped providing these medications.

There is no measure that schools can take to treat the phenomenon, as the classrooms are overcrowded, and there are often three children per seat, meaning that the susceptibility to infection is very high because there is no safe distance.

Some schools resort to many tricks to avoid infection, such as seating a thin-haired male child between two female girls in the same seat, which slightly removes the possibility of transmission of infection, but the number of male students compared to the number of female students may not be suitable for such a procedure.

Last year, the majority of schools in Latakia recorded large cases of lice among students, and the main reason for this appeared to be the high prices of shampoo and its low quality, in addition to the lack of hot water for bathing, as electricity was only supplied one hour a day, at a rate of a quarter of an hour for every 6 hours.

Kerosene is a dangerous medium

The risk of lice infection this year appears to be high with the rise in the prices of treatment supplies, as the majority of families cannot afford the cost of the supplies, so they resort to some other types of treatments that may be very dangerous for the child.

Nahida, 40, discovered that her two daughters were infected with lice, and the infection was also transmitted to her, so she asked her husband to buy a liter of kerosene from the gas station at a price that did not exceed 5,000 pounds.

She said that she put kerosene on her hair and the hair of her two daughters, then covered it with a plastic bag, and left it for a full six hours before beginning the washing phase and then removing the insects and eggs, in a process she described as exhausting, as her sister helped her with it.

Nahida, who lives in a village on the Kassab road, said that she had heard about the dangers of kerosene, but she did not trust it. When she was young and every time she contracted lice, her mother used to apply the stages of treatment with kerosene, but nothing happened to her.

She stated that she needs more than 100,000 pounds to treat herself and her two daughters, and she has no ability to pay the amount, as her husband’s salary in a government institution and his additional work in agriculture are not enough to meet food needs.

A number of people resort to a compound substance purchased from stores that sell plants to be used as a powerful treatment to get rid of lice at a relatively low price, as it is sold upon request for 1,000 or 2,000 pounds and more.

The compound substance is considered very dangerous, and last April, it caused the death of a child in Damascus, where she suffered a heart attack as a result of the toxic substance penetrating her body through the pores of her skin, the ruling party Al-Baath newspaper reported.

Serious consequences

Haitham, 30 (pseudonym), a resident doctor at the Children’s Hospital in Latakia, said that kerosene is very dangerous for the child’s sensitive skin and may cause poisoning, and if it gets into the eyes, it causes very big problems and may end in severe inflammation and damage to the retina. 

The pediatrician added that no treatments should be used for children except with the advice of a doctor or pharmacist, as children’s immunity is much lower than that of adults, and thus, the matter could lead to very serious consequences.

Dr. Haitham advises mothers to resort to purchasing lice medications from pharmacies, pointing out that their price is high, but they are the only safe and effective solution for treating lice. He called on families to try to reduce the chances of infection by adopting hairstyles that reduce the risks of infection, such as braided hair or a bun, and educating children not to stay close together in schools.



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