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Sunday, February 5, 2023

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Heading-Off Head Lice: Part Two

by Another Anonymous Adult

As parents, we owe it to our kids to obtain and implement large amounts of information for their well being. They count on us. One subject does not get discussed at a playgroup or over coffee. It is extremely emotional, disruptive, and frightening.

It happens to millions of people every year in the United States alone. It crosses all socioeconomic boundaries. The problem is so widespread yet parents do not feel that they can confide in each other or in anyone else. This leaves families isolated, scared, and scrambling for information. Ideally, both private and public schools should offer a handbook as a precursor to the school year.

The time to learn about this is not when it strikes your family. The time to learn is now.

Head Lice infest as many as six million people in any given year and as much as12 million people in other years in this country. Within Fredericksburg, it tears through both private and public schools annually, but until it hits your family, it is a quiet tremor.

There are many treatment options. They range from what Grandma did in 1956, to pesticide treatments in a bottle from the drug store. To banish these buggers it takes days of work and perseverance. There are no shortcuts.

Understanding the life cycle of the louse is so important in battling these intruders. To only check the back of the neck and behind the ears for an infestation is not sufficient. The whole head must be inspected. Eggs are laid close to the scalp and attached to the hair shaft with a substance that is like waterproof glue. The eggs are the size of poppy seeds, start out white, and are brown in color before they hatch.

The gestation for the egg is approximately ten days. When the baby louse–called a nymph–hatches, the empty shell left behind is the nit. Nits are oval shaped and found farther down the hair shaft because the hair has grown out since the initial laying of the egg.

The nymph matures for about two weeks and is then capable of laying eggs. These insects are very fast and run from probing fingers and light, so they are very hard to see. The nymphs are practically invisible.

Most pesticide treatments kill live lice because they affect their nervous systems. The eggs, however, are protected from these chemicals and many survive. Removing all of these eggs is the only way to stop the cycle. Do not trust that the magic bottle of hair gel, which creates a slick, inhospitable egg-laying surface, will take care of them. The pesticide companies themselves recommend reapplying their product to kill all newly hatched lice seven to ten days after the initial treatment. If pesticides killed the lice and eggs the first time, why would they tell you to do it again? The companies know that the eggs are probably still viable. The box tells you to apply, rinse, and comb out. If only it were that simple. Do not be lulled into thinking the crisis is over because you followed the directions. It is impossible to get every egg and bug the first go around. Some bugs will survive the treatments. Furthermore and more important, there have been many reports of lice that are resistant to the chemicals. They just will not all die.

Obviously, the use of pesticides on our children’s heads is not ideal. The chemicals have risks of side effects. With the use of over the counter pesticides the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says, “Treatment failures are common.” The pesticides can be a first line of treatment to eliminate the bulk of the live lice to leave you to focus on the eggs. Furthermore, the oil may smother the live lice but you cannot count on that.

Prescription treatments are available but not easily obtained. Some say these are strong chemicals and should be used after all else fails. Those who have lived through the months of reinfestations advise phoning your doctor at first occurrence!

The EPA states, “You can get rid of lice just by combing. It is not necessary to use shampoo with pesticides. In fact, they recommend these shampoos only as a last resort in extreme cases.” The EPA suggests using salad oil and a metal nit comb. Only a metal comb will hold up to the vigorous job of continual combing. The plastic combs that come with the chemical treatments will not do the job. Eggs will be missed and re-infestation is likely. It is also critical to comb as close as you can to the scalp to collect all of the eggs.

Medical providers and medicinal manufacturers confuse eggs and nits alike. As nits are empty shells, simply pulling out the empty nit shells will get you no closer to being lice free. After every pass through the hair, inspect the comb for lice and eggs. Carefully wipe the comb with clean facial tissues and dip it in a bowl of hot soapy water. Flush all of the tissues, lice, and eggs down the toilet or carefully seal in a plastic bag and dispose of. Methodically sectioning and combing for hours every day is a family’s only hope for banishing lice. Thorough combing needs to go on for two weeks following the infestation. The metal nit comb can be boiled for 15 minutes or soaked in ammonia between users.

It seems that a natural remedy that actually killed the lice would be more helpful. They are so fast, it is easier to get lice out if they are not moving. Home remedies include mixing aroma therapy oils and applying to the head, then covering with a swim cap for two hours. These recommended oils touted by websites all over the internet include Neem oil and Anise oil. Slathering the head with olive oil, mayonnaise or Vaseline and leaving on overnight are all popular. Apply the smothering agent and wrap tightly in a saran wrap until morning. Use a shower cap to try to keep the mess to a minimum.

Opinions vary for how long to leave the concoction on. Some say eight hours and some say ten. Go as long as you can. In the morning unwrap and start combing. This can be a great follow up plan to follow the pesticide treatment. Since you cannot reapply the pesticide for 7-10 days anyway, it gives another plan of attack. New eggs cannot be adhered to a greasy hair shaft. The downside is that Vaseline takes forever to get out of the hair, and the mayonnaise may be less appealing by morning after hours without refrigeration. The olive oil seems like a good middle of the road choice that washes out easier.

As you are busy combing, your mind will be racing with everything else that needs doing. The laundry is insurmountable. Turning the hot water heater up to 130 degrees is advisable. All of the clothing and linens should go in the dryer, too. Vacuum the infested person’s room, mattress, and common areas. Then the vacuum bag needs to be sealed and disposed of.

This entire process ends up turning an entire home upside down. Stuffed animals are bagged and removed. Every other child in the home is inspected closely, and their linens washed, to be sure. The couch begins to look suspicious, not to mention the seats in the car. Then your mind swirls with bike helmets, towels, favorite blankets, book bags, and coats . . . with no end in sight.

The more you do, the more that needs to be done. Steam cleaning the carpets and furniture starts to feel like the only way they would truly be gone. There is much unrest and very little eating. Everything focuses around these invaders.

The best defense is a strong offense. We are not helpless. With a small amount of effort, there are some actions we can take for prevention. Every parent should own a metal nit comb. Children should be inspected with the comb once a week, all year long. This should become a part of your regular weekly hygiene routine. The hair must be parted and examined close to the scalp for eggs. After every stroke check the comb for any debris. This activity will prevent a severe infestation, and alert you early to any problem.

This becomes even more important when the child is exposed to an infested classmate or friend. Checking one time is not sufficient, and will allow the lice population to increase rapidly. Preventative measures must be taken.

· Keeping hair as short as possible is one option.

· Keeping girls’ long hair up in buns, braids or ponytails reduces the risk.

· Coating the hair with hairspray and gels makes the hair less desirable for the lice. High heat of hair dryers and hair irons is supposed to kill live lice.

· Tea Tree oil is thought to have lice repelling qualities. Simply add a few drops in shampoo and conditioner to implement this strategy.

· If your child complains of itching, inspect the whole head in bright light. Take ample time to do this because that could be the first warning sign.

· Teach your children not to share brushes, combs, hair ties and hats.

· Soak your brushes and combs in hot soapy water for ten minutes. Do this monthly or more often.

Regular inspections may seem very time consuming in our busy lives. However, the time spent should be considered an investment to avoid the complete disruption an infestation becomes. When they miss the early signs on one child, the whole family is in jeopardy.

The stigma attached is unfortunate because the infected person did nothing wrong. It is no indication of the cleanliness of the person or home; it is not something that the child did or did not do. It is simply head-to-head contact with another that transmits the pests.

We all must get informed and pay attention. Only then can we support one another and protect our families.

Author is the parent of four children who attend a Fredericksburg private school.

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