Lice Aren’t Nice

Okay, so just let me start out this post by acknowledging the “yuck” factor. Lice are parasites and they are gross. Being that head lice outbreaks are still so prominent in schools, I thought it fitting to celebrate this back-to-school  month by sprucing up our readers’ knowledge on keeping those critters off of  kids. Fortunately, (knock on wood), I have never had to deal with head lice on my biological children, nor have I ever had it myself. My knowledge of all things lice comes from my experiences as a foster parent and social worker. Working in those capacities I had my share of run-ins with these almost microscopic bugs and developed a little system that I feel is useful to share. No. I don’t claim to be an expert on anything but whimsy, but if you’re interested in learning my method, read-on. Now let’s break this info down by what you need to know…
Understanding the Enemy
Head lice are parasitic wingless insects. They live on people’s heads and feed on their
blood. An adult is called a louse and is about the size of a sesame seed. The
eggs, called nits, are even smaller – almost like a dandruff flake. Lice and
nits are easiest to detect at the neckline and behind the ears. There is a
higher risk of a lice infestation if nits are detected within 1cm of the scalp.
Nits found further from the scalp have probably hatched and therefore do not
indicate a live infestation.
“Adult head lice are roughly 2-3 mm long. Head lice infest the head and neck and
attach their eggs to the base of the hair shaft. Lice move by crawling; they
cannot hop or fly”.
(http://www.cdc.gov).
I think that nits look a lot like little triangles or dots glued to individual strands of
hair. To me, lice look like little, clear lobster. I know. Gross. You may never
eat lobster again, but those little claws that they use for gripping hairs make
them look a lot like crustaceans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms of head lice include:
  • Tickling feeling in the hair
  • Frequent  itching
  • Sores from scratching
I feel it necessary to say that lice aren’t an indication of poor hygiene and according
to the American Academy of Pediatrics, having lice does not mean the person with
them is going to develop a disease.
Prevention
Head lice are extremely contagious. We should all be reminded that close contact or sharing personal belongings, such as hats or hairbrushes, puts people at risk. I remember that throughout all of my years of elementary education, we were always instructed to hang our hats and coats on a line of hooks just inside the  door. I’m sure that the goal was to avoid a pile on the floor. All that resulted was a pile of hats, coats, and book bags suspended two feet off of the floor. Imagine the potential for cross-contamination that genius arrangement provided! I can’t tell you the relief I felt when I learned that students at my child’s school are encouraged to place their coats, hats and other items on the
backs of their chairs or in their backpacks that are also placed on the backs of chairs.
One can only guess why, but everywhere I looked, the stats are pretty consistent that children ages 3-11 and their families get head lice most often. Teaching children at a young age to keep their heads and belongings separate from others’ will hopefully produce a habit that will help prevent contact with head lice.
I don’t know if there have been any studies on this but as a social worker and a foster parent there was a rumor out there that hair dye kills lice. I know that some foster parents who got sick of treating lice resorted to picking out a color that closely resembled a given child’s hair color and dyed it. For them, simply dying the child’s hair seemed to do the trick. I’d like to say that dying my hair was a form of prevention but the truth is that I just like dying my hair so much that I have been likened to Lucille Ball. If never contracting head lice was a side effect of that, then I welcomed what I saw as a happy coincidence.
Treatment
Shampoos:
The Centers for Disease control states the “most important step in treating head lice is to treat the person and other family members with medicine to kill the lice.” (www.cdc.gov). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that head lice be treated with a lice-killing shampoo  such as RID (www.ridlice.com) or NIX (www.nixlice.com). Regardless of how effective they may be, many parents don’t like using lice shampoos that contain pesticides.
During my research for this post, I learned that “Ulesfia (Benzyl Alcohol Lotion 5%) was recently approved to treat children over six months of age with lice. Unlike other head lice shampoos which are mostly pesticides, Ulesfia is a water-soluble gel that works to suffocate head lice.” (www.about.com).
Combs:
Whether or not you choose to use a shampoo, gel or some combination, I adamantly recommend you use a lice comb to thoroughly remove the lice. I have used both RID and NIX products with success. However, I must say that I never used just a shampoo without a trusty Licemeister (www.HeadLice.org). A Licemeister is a small comb that is designed to remove lice when the comb is pulled through separated groupings of hair. It can be used on wet or dry hair. You can visit www.HeadLice.org for an instructional video on how to properly use this product.
While researching this post, I came across the Lice Guard (www.liceguard.com) which offers a “non toxic and pesticide free” way of treating lice. Included in the three-step process is a comb that closely resembles the Licemeister. The other two steps involved in this method include a non-toxic, pesticide free lice-killing shampoo and preventative solution. I have never used this product, nor do I know of someone who has, but if it works, this method sounds like a great solution.
Method
As I have said before, I am versed in the process of removing lice and would like to share my method with you.
What you will need:
  • Lice-removing comb
  • Adequate lighting (a lamp or sunny window will be perfect)
  • Hair clips
  • Disposable comb
  • Washable safety scissors
  • Chair
  • Disposable Shower curtain
  • Roll of paper towels
  • Disposable plate
  • Disposable cup filled with water
  • Garbage bag
  • Lined garbage bin
Step-By-Step Process for Cleaning the Head:
  1. Sit in the chair and place the shower curtain over your lap and floor area.
  2. Begin by treating hair with lice-killing shampoo (optional).
  3. Cut a head hole in the garbage bag and place it over the head to create an apron/poncho.
  4. Use the disposable comb to remove any tangles.
  5. Discard the comb into the garbage bin.
  6. Starting at the forehead, use lice-removing comb, slowly combing from scalp to tip, grasping
    the hair with the opposite hand so that it doesn’t fall onto the rest of the hair.
  7. Place the lice-removing comb on the disposable plate.
  8. Twist the hair into a small knot and clip it with a hair clip.
  9. Wipe the comb clean with a paper towel and discard it into the garbage bin.
  10. If you find a nit, snip the strand of hair with safety scissors and discard it into the garbage bin.
  11. Continue this process until all of the hair is combed through, using the cup of water to rinse the comb before wiping it clean with a paper towel if needed.
  12. When all of the hair has been combed through, discard all disposable items.
  13. Sterilize the lice comb and safety scissors after use. You can do this by placing them in boiling
    water for several minutes. Personally, I just throw them away.
I’d follow the above steps for at least a week so as to ensure that all lice and nits are removed.
NOTE: “Nits hatch in 7 to 10 days and develop into an adult in another 7 to 10 days which can then lay more eggs. Since anti-lice shampoos don’t usually kill nits, you usually have to retreat the person with lice in 7 to 10 days to kill any newly hatched head lice and break this lice life cycle. Many experts now recommend doing your second head lice treatment on day 9.” (www.about.com).
Okay, so the head is taken care of. Now for the rest of the house. Some think that cleaning for lice is a lot like cleaning for fleas. Not so. No poisons are necessary and very simple steps can ensure a clean, lice-free environment for the whole family.
Step by Step Process for Cleaning the Home:
  1. Clean all bedding and clothing of the lice-infested person. All laundry should be washed in
    hot water.
  2. Vacuum the following to remove lice and nits…
    1. Individual’s bed
    2. All furniture
    3. Carpets
    4. Stuffed toys
    5. Car interior
    6. Car seat
    7. Clean all items that have been in contact with clothing worn by infected person within 24
      hours. This includes hats on a shared hat rack, coats stored together in a closet, etc.
    8. Place anything that cannot be washed in a large, plastic garbage bag for three weeks. This
      will allow the amount of time necessary for the lice to starve and die.
    9. Check and treat all other members of your household for a possible lice infestation. For any member who also has lice, follow the step-by-step directions above.
NOTE: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you really only have to clean “items that have been in contact with the head of the person with infestation in the 24 to 48 hours before treatment.” (www.about.com). I recommend walking through the past two days and cleaning anything that may have come in contact with the lice.
Some parents will feel caught in a vicious cycle of a seemingly incurable lice infestation. En lieu of shaving the infected person’s hair completely (which doesn’t always bode well in the middle of winter), I recommend going to see a doctor. A trip to the doctor can solve a couple of problems for you. First, they can help you identify the lice and nits and confirm that there is still a problem. From here, medical personnel can instruct you in ensuring you are using the proper method for removing lice and nits. Secondly, for severe cases, doctors can prescribe Ovide (www.rx4headlice.com) or another powerful lice-killing shampoo. These stronger shampoos are described as a second-line treatment and I defer to your doctor completely on the subject of all things chemically and medical.
No, lice aren’t nice, but hopefully the above information will help you get through what could be a terrible predicament. The only other advice this non-expert would give you, would be to make sure you don’t freak out the person you are treating. Chances are, they feel pretty awful already. Instead, attacking the problem with the info and know-how will help get everyone through this uncomfortable time with a little bit of ease.
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Categories: children, Family, Home, Medical, Parenting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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