By Kate Kutzleb
Back to school and I have a little problem on my mind and hopefully not in my hair. You itching yet? For a few years my family has successfully ducked and dodged the pesky little menaces; but as last year’s school term ended, one brave, candid mom reached out to me and let me know that my child might have been exposed to lice by her child. My family initially skipped the au natural, organic, Gwenyth Paltrow-approved holistic treatment and went straight for the high test pesticide. Everyone in my family got treated. It was smelly and expensive.
In later discussions with other moms, it came to light that this had been an issue throughout the past school year. How did I not realize it was so common? I suspect many moms were protecting their children by not mentioning the problem. Kids can be cruel – I get that – so I thought I might share what my experience taught me and maybe save another mom’s pride and sanity this school year.
I consulted with Dena Black at Matthews Lice Clinics of America along with several moms (who prefer to be nameless) and the internet. Here is my top 10 of what to know.
1.) Lice do not carry diseases. They are just gross annoyances. If you think someone is infected look for small red bite marks at the nape of the neck. Also look for “nits.” These lice eggs are teeny tiny off-white round bits stuck to the hair shaft close to the scalp.
2.) Lice love clean people. Several moms and a hairdresser advised washing kids hair as little as possible as a deterrent, though I couldn’t find scientific support for this. Other moms recommended using Tea Tree shampoo and conditioner or spraying hair with a Tea Tree mist before school These are deterrents, not treatment.
3.) Lice do not hop, fly, swim or jump. They need a vector to get from person to person. A quick hug or kids touching heads reading or playing closely together also shared hair items, hats, scarves, etc. Coats hung next to each other on a rack are a vector. Pools and playgrounds are not.
4.) Lice can hold their breath for three hours. So pools, beach and tub time is not a solution or a deterrent.
5.) Lice need a human for survival. So quarantine any exposed items such as stuffed animals for 48 hours in a plastic bag. Vacuum carpets and upholstery for mercenary louses and stray nits. No need to bug-bomb your abode. They also don’t live on pets.
6.) Lice can’t stand heat of 130 degrees or higher. So wash clothes and bed linens in hot water followed by a hot dryer. A hot dryer tumble is a great solution for stuffed animals as well and a hot dishwasher on the “sanitize” cycle can be used for brushes and hair items. One mom recommended a hair iron set at 150 degrees, but you need to get very close to the scalp and treat every strand – plus this treats immobile nits not mobile lice-so this option isn’t 100 percent effective.
7.) A professional treatment may be worth every cent. My family spent over $200 on several over-the-counter treatments. One of the moms I spoke with used Lice Clinics of America (locations in Wilmington and Matthews), which uses the only FDA-approved medical device to complete a “one and done lice treatment.” Lice Clinics of America will also check the entire family to ensure no lice are missed and no one is treated unnecessarily. Two of the moms I spoke with highly recommended using a professional; however, some lice treatment professionals may require multiple visits or the purchase of at-home kits, so research and ask questions before making a commitment.
8.) Home treatment can work and may be less expensive but you need to commit to the time and the combing. For our family the easiest treatment at home was the Lice Free Spray, but I would caution that our family did multiple treatments and comb-outs using a metal lice comb every three days for a month before I was truly confident that I had personally murdered every last little bugger and its offspring. Lice have a 10-day life cycle from nit to louse, so multiple at-home treatments over a few weeks may be necessary. A school nurse said she believed the families that suffered from multiple re-infestions were actually not getting all the nits from at-home treatments.
9.) Lice are jerks – to everyone. Dena Black, of Lice Clinic of America, sees clients of all hair types and all ages. Some of her more unexpected clientele include older adults living in retirement homes.
10.) Be honest. Obviously, it is embarrassing to contact everyone if someone in your family has been unwittingly hosting a buggy AirBnB, but you should contact your school if classmates have been exposed. You can ask to remain anonymous and a letter can be sent home and parents can keep an eye out for symptoms. And definitely contact anyone you know for sure was in contact with an affected person, family or close friends. Believe me, they will be grateful for the heads up.