I’m about to do the bravest thing I’ve ever done.
Last week, in the midst of all our puppy troubles, we were also dealing with a head lice infestation. And when I say infestation, I mean infestation. I had it and both my boys had it. One of my boys had hundreds of bugs in his hair. Andrea Hecht, a certified lice expert and owner of Nit Works Inc., estimated that he had lice for six weeks. And I didn’t even know.
I was horrified, yes, but too busy to be ‘bugged’ about it. We treated it immediately and after several brief maintenance comb-outs, it was gone. Just like that.
But nobody talks about it. Nobody admits to having had it, but everyone is at risk of exposure or infestation at some point. Lice is especially common over the summer during camp season, but is also prevalent throughout the school year. So basically, it’s a common nuisance all year-round. Lice doesn’t distinguish—anyone from homeless to high society can get it—so why not me?
It is disgusting. It is horrifying. But it’s also treatable. And because nobody discusses it, there are a lot of myths related to this centuries-old problem. I spoke to Andrea for the low down on lice.
How common is it?
Andrea: Canadian statistics estimate 1 in 14 households has a current case of head lice. Essentially it is more common than the cold. Most commonly affected are children ages three to 11 and their families and caregivers. Men and adolescent boys are the least affected – lice don’t like testosterone.
How do you get it in the first place and how contagious is it?
Andrea: Head lice is contracted through direct head to head contact or by transmission from soft objects such as couches, hats, bed linens and even movie theatre seats. Only adult head lice (live adult bugs) can transfer from head to head. Head lice crawl and have three small gripping claws on each side that grasp onto the hair shaft. They do not jump, hop or fly. On the human head, an adult bug can live up to 30 days and feeds on human blood from the scalp. Off the head, lice can live for 24 to 48 hours.
How do you treat it? What about all those lice treatments and combs they sell in the store?
Andrea: Historically head lice was treated through manual removal of bugs and eggs. More traditional home remedies include smothering live lice and nits with mayonnaise, olive oil, Vaseline and essential oils to stop the cycle. This can take from weeks to months to kill live lice while their life cycle continues. Modern day lice removal includes the use of a high quality metal lice comb with tight grooves to remove both eggs and bugs. In addition, non-toxic enzyme products that are made from plant-based extracts are helpful in loosening eggs from the hair and harming/slowing down the live debris. Commonly used are over-the-counter products, like Nix and Resultz, that contain ingredients to kill live lice and damage eggs, although these treatments need to be repeated and still require manual removal of all lice debris. Current media articles even refer to “Super Lice” that have become resistant to these store bought lice kits.
What is involved in cleaning your house if your child has lice?
Andrea: Four main environmental care recommendations include:
– Placing sheets and towels in a hot dryer for 30 to 45 minutes and any other soft materials like blankets, stuffed animals and sleeping bags
– Alternatively, soft items can be isolated or bagged for 24 to 48 hours
– Vacuuming the couches, floors and carpets is also recommended
– Cleaning and sanitizing all hair accessories including brushes, hair elastics, hair bows and hats. This can be done through boiling for 5 to 10 minutes, placing items in a freezer or sanitizing with soapy water and scrubbing.
To prevent head lice, children can wear their hair in ponytails and use essential oils, like mint or lavender, in their shampoo to repel lice. Also avoid sharing hats, brushes and personal belongings or touching heads at school. The best recommendation is to “take a peek once a week” or at the very least monthly to stay ahead of a lice infestation.
Just so you know, dogs can’t get lice, so you don’t have to worry about treating your pet if your family has lice.
Should you tell your friends and the school?
Andrea: “Be a friend, tell a friend” is our motto. Head lice will persist between family and friends if it is kept a secret. We are trying to break the stigma associated with head lice and discussing it and educating others is an important step in breaking the cycle. Reporting to a child’s school or camp is also very important as our kids are in schools most of the day. This information is sure to be kept confidential.
What sort of policy do most camps and schools have about lice?
Andrea: Lice policies vary from school to school, camp to camp and home to home. Generally, head lice is not considered a health risk or disease. Most institutions rely on data that states that head lice is not a problem that should require children to be sent home from school. In extreme cases where live debris is found, students or campers may be required to be sent home until treatment has been conducted.
Why didn’t I know my son had it for six weeks? Am I the worst mother in the world?
Andrea: Head lice is a problem that creeps up on families quite quickly. A common myth is that a child will be itchy when they have a case of lice. Approximately 50 percent of children or adults with lice will feel symptomatic when there are live bugs, others will not. Itching is a result of the lice feeding on the scalp – not everyone has that sensitivity. Most children who are found to have a case of head lice usually find out at the two to three week period when the critters are feeding on your scalp.
Who do you call if you want help?
Andrea: A growing industry in North America are head lice clinics. These businesses are rapidly in high demand for their accessibility, quick appointment availability and professionals who can treat and educate families in short order. Lice clinics also carry a variety of non-toxic natural treatment and prevention products and professional grade lice combs for sale. In our busy society, this age old problem now has a quick, affordable cure where families aren’t spending weeks and months on home treatment.
Why does nobody talk about it?
Andrea: Decades ago having lice was a dirty little problem but seems to still be a dirty little secret. I tell my clients clients to brag that they must have had very clean hair for the bugs to want to invade their family’s space. Lice clinics offer TV screens, snacks, toys and a positive and professional approach to safe and friendly lice removal.
Andrea Hecht is the founder of Nit Works and has been trained and certified in the Shepherd Method of Lice Removal. www.nitworks.ca