18-Month-Old Girl Dies During Home Lice Treatment

home lice treatment toddler death

Nobody likes to get the dreaded Lice Letter from school or daycare. I know I always panic a little when I get one, and I start thinking ahead to potential treatment options if one of my kids ends up infested. However, after reading today’s story of a little girl who tragically died after a home treatment for head lice went awry, I know there’s one old-fashioned remedy I will never, ever, EVER try.


An 18-month-old girl in central Massachusetts suffocated in her sleep over the weekend. Police in Springfield, about 90 miles west of Boston, responded to the toddler’s home at about 3 p.m. on Saturday after receiving a 911 call that a child was not breathing. Officers found an adult administering CPR to the child, but medical personnel determined that the young girl had been dead for some time.

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Apparently the little girl had been put to bed on Friday night with a plastic bag on her scalp. Her hair had been coated in mayonnaise in an effort to treat head lice, and at some point the bag covered her face and cut off her air supply.

While I’ve never tried this this home remedy, I’ve definitely heard of it. A quick Google search will reveal all sorts of instructions for using mayo to get rid of head lice, although most advise using a shower cap instead of a plastic bag. Covering the hair in mayonnaise (or petroleum jelly, as is often suggested) supposedly creates a habitat unfavorable to the head lice, and the cap or bag is supposed to be kept in place for eight hours.

The Minnesota Department of Health even lists the mayo trick as an alternate to using chemical shampoos. However, they do clearly state:

Avoid treatment while the infested person sleeps, as the cap may become a suffocation hazard.

I’m sure this was a completely unintentional accident, and I can’t imagine what the family must be going through. (Although I have to say, it seems insane that no one called 911 until 3 p.m. the next day.) Hopefully this awful story will serve as a reminder to other parents that small children and plastic bags are a dangerous mix — far worse than anything the child might be exposed to by using traditional lice treatments.

Have you ever done the mayo lice treatment before? If so, how did you keep it safe?

Image via chezmummy/Flickr

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