Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lice and You

Itchy yet?  The dreaded note came home from school again yesterday. There is a case of pediculosis in Little Boo's Kindergarten class. That would be "an infestation of lice," for the uninitiated. And, as anyone who has had to deal with these blood-sucking critters knows, lice ain't fun.

lice image
Male (left) and Female (right) head lice. Image from Wikipedia.
Head lice is most common in preschool and elementary-aged kids. And it has nothing to do with poor hygiene. The lice spread by contact from one head to the next, or by being transferred via sharing personal items like brushes or hats. They could also (much less likely) be transferred via upholstered furniture or pillows or the like. According to the Mayo Clinic, adult lice can live just two days without food (your blood) and the nits (their eggs) require the temperature they enjoy from their perch so near the human head. This is why spreading from furniture or personal items happens less often than from head to head contact.

Intense itching is really the only physical symptom to notice, other than the appearance of actual lice or nits. If you or your child suspect you have lice, you need to carefully pick through the hair to look for physical evidence. Nits usually are found attached to the shaft of the hair, very close to the scalp. They may look like dandruff, but, unlike dandruff, they are not easily removed. Adult lice are pictured in the image above. (shudder) They can usually be found behind ears, or at the nape of the neck. They are tiny!

It may be easier to search for lice in wet hair. Use a fine toothed comb and carefully comb through and separate at the roots. I remember my parents using a nit comb on my very long hair when I was a little kid. It was not a fun experience. One of the benefits of having a boy is that it is socially acceptable, and even cool, to shave his head. This is my primary louse-prevention strategy. Hubs is follically challenged, so he shaves his head too, making it a viable option in Little Boo's eyes.
Mommy's Louse-Prevention Strategy
We will be doing daily inspections for a total of 10 days. We're about half-way through and nothing yet. The shaved head should save us, as we don't think the lice will be happy laying their eggs on such short hair. But we'll still keep an eye out.

Should we find anything, Little Boo will need to stay home from school until all evidence of the critters is gone. There are a number of non-prescription shampoos and treatments available at your local drugstore - just ask your pharmacist. If the over-the-counter products don't do the job, your physician can prescribe something heftier.

For those who would prefer to stay away from chemicals on their wee ones' heads, there are many home remedies to try. Many folks swear by tea tree oil, both as a louse killer and a preventative measure. You can add a few drops to your child's shampoo for prevention, or add it directly to their head if lice are present. Olive oil, mayonnaise, or vaseline, applied to the head at night and covered with a shower cap or plastic wrap, are touted as being able to drown or suffocate the the adult lice.

But, from all I've been reading, it seems that the only surefire way to get rid of lice is the good old-fashioned nit-picking. Comb and pick out the adults and the nits. Painstaking, time-consuming, and possibly painful. But effective. We have been lucky so far, and I hope we won't have to actually test out methods ourselves!

For more information on head lice/pediculosis and its prevention, detection, and treatment, please visit the Mayo Clinic's website. They are my go-to internet source for any health-related questions.

For an in-depth survey of what works and what doesn't in terms of treatment, I recommend this article by John Hoffman in Today's Parent, from 2007. It provides a careful look at a number of options that may or may not work or be necessary.

I have to go scratch for a while now. I hope it's just psycho-somatic....

What about you? Have you had a run-in with lice and your kids? How did you treat it? What worked and what didn't??

(Mayo Clinic, Wikipedia, and Today's Parent websites all provided insights for this article.)

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