Oh No! Not Head Lice!

September 1, 2011

By johnmac

I recently emailed a friend of mine to ask her how her weekend went. She said her weekend was all about head lice!

Just like many of us, she received that dreaded notice that was sent home from school that starts out something like this: “Your child may have come in contact with head lice”….and then the dreaded phone call from your child’s best friends’ mom “You may want to check Sally’s head – our Janie has head lice.”

I wasn’t planning on writing about head lice this month, but my friend’s story revived a head lice nightmare I lived many years ago with my two daughters….and according to the National Pediculosis Association (pediculosis is a fancy word for head lice), not surprisingly, September is Head Lice Prevention Month….so I figured I’d do my bit to celebrate it.

Head lice are human parasites and they’ve been around since the beginning of time! Being parasites, they’re not picky – any human blood will do them just fine. Anyone, at any age, can get them– and it has nothing to do with a lack of personal hygiene. They spread by head-to-head contact, sharing hats, brushes, headrests or anything else that comes in contact with the hair/head. Contrary to what some may think, head lice do not jump or fly and they cannot survive without human blood, so it is not necessary (but rather potentially harmful) to use pesticide sprays around the house or on furniture and beddings.

So…back to my head lice nightmare. Several years ago, my youngest daughter brought the dreaded note home from school – and then came the phone calls from her friends’ parents informing me their children had them. It was just before Christmas, so you can imagine how much I was dreading what I was possibly in for.

Given that my daughter has a beautiful head of thick, curly hair, and the fact that I’d never seen a lousy louse (louse is the singular form of the word ‘lice’), or a nit (a louse egg) before, I wasn’t really sure I’d be able to find what I was supposed to be looking for. Luckily for me (I guess), upon my very first inspection of her head, I saw one of those nasty critters scurry along her scalp! It was SO fast; I only saw it for a split second – from another angle or under different lighting I could have easily missed it. Further inspection found more, so the next morning I made the call to the school to let them know my daughter had head lice and that she would be staying home until I was certain the situation was under control.

I spent a good chunk of that Christmas holiday doing daily searches for head lice and nits as it turned out my other daughter also had head lice (and to top it off, so did I). These daily searches took several hours. Immediately after we did our treatment, I  would get comfortable on the couch with some very good lighting, a child sitting down in front of me, my bag of head inspection tools (small double-pointed knitting needles, a nit comb, hair clips to segment off hair, etc) and hopefully something good on TV that would keep them entertained for a couple of hours while I performed the tedious inspection.  I found it easier to do head checks immediately after we washed our hair as it made it easier to spot lice and nits when the hair was less full and easier to manage (compared to a thick, curly head of dry hair).

The word spread about my daily ritual and parents started bringing their children to me for checks – I was even hired by a private teaching academy to go and check all the heads of one of their classes as they had a persistent infestation even though parents had used treatments and were certain their children were ‘clean’.  In that classroom of ‘parent-declared’ lice-free and nit-free children, I found a few children who still had lice and/or nits. How could that be when parents had used the special shampoos from the pharmacy?

My opinion is two-fold. First, I feel that some parents get a false sense of security when they use one of the many lice treatment pesticide shampoos/lotions available and figure that after a couple of treatments, their child is 100% lice-free, so send them back to school and become less diligent about doing head checks after that (if at all). Secondly, even if parents do head checks, some aren’t sure what they’re looking for (or perhaps don’t have the eyesight to spot what they’re looking for!) and/or aren’t doing very thorough searches.

Of the many chemical treatments available, some are perhaps safer than others, some are perhaps more effective than others, but remember that all lice-killing products are PESTICIDES and must be used with care and exactly as instructed. After I did my research on head lice, I chose not to use them. This was my personal choice and I was comfortable with it. If you are not, I don’t expect you to follow my example, but I do want to make you aware that there are alternative ‘treatments’ if you would rather not go the chemical route. The treatment I chose involved tea tree oil, coconut oil and most importantly, daily, diligent head checks for at least 2 weeks. Apparently, coconut oil suffocates the lice and makes it harder for them to grip the hair. Interestingly, a friend of mine from the Philippines told me that coconut oil is the only thing her family ever used in cases of head lice.

According to the President of the National Pediculosis Association, no chemical treatment is 100% effective, and no treatment is 100% safe for 100% of children as they can aggravate conditions such as asthma, allergies and eczema. Pregnant and nursing women should speak to their pharmacist or physician before using one of these products on themselves or applying it on someone else.

If your child does not have head lice, DO NOT USE A CHEMCIAL TREATMENT AS PREVENTION! It will NOT prevent lice and it will contribute to making head lice resistant to the treatments. It would be like giving your child antibiotics when they aren’t sick! Instead, keep hair short or covered, or tied back in braids, buns, or some other fashion. Using a tea tree oil shampoo and/or working a little bit of tea tree oil through their hair every morning before sending them off to school  may help as lice don’t particularly like the smell of tea tree oil. It’s not completely lice-proof, but it may help. Also tell your child not to share any items that come in contact with heads/hair.

An indispensable resource is www.headlice.org. I encourage you to visit this site to separate fact from fiction, to understand the life cycle of these critters, and to understand treatment options. They even have pictures of what to look for and there are loads of great educational resources for parents and teachers.

Whether you decide to use chemical treatments or alternative treatments, please remember that the only 100% effective way to get rid of head lice is to be diligent with ‘head checks’  and to remove all lice and nits. Miss one or two and you’re back to square one.  I strongly recommend that you spend the money on a top quality comb, such as the LiceMeister Comb, available at most health food and some drug stores. Studies done with this comb suggest it is the most effective comb for use in controlling head lice infestations. Check it out (along with a video of how to use it) at:  www.headlice.org/licemeister/index.htm

A head lice infestation is more than just a nuisance – it needs to be taken seriously. Recent scientific study suggests that the potential for disease transmission via the head louse should not be underestimated. If you are having trouble getting rid of head lice in your family and would like some advice, need some assistance in figuring it out, or would like to discuss alternative treatments, I would be happy to have an appointment with you.

Hmm, I don’t know about you, but all this talk about head lice is making my head itchy!

Happy Head Lice Prevention Month!



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