I bet you are getting itchy just reading the headline.
But since September is Lice Awareness Month, it seems only right to address the issue now.
Lice are parasitic insects that are generally found on people’s heads (but also, very rarely, set up shop on eyelashes and eyebrows). While lice are not known to spread disease, they are known to feed on human blood several times a day as they make a cozy home close to a person’s scalp. According to the CDC, about 6-12 million lice infestations occur every year.
A typical lice life cycle has three stages and takes about three-and-a-half weeks to complete. It begins when a pregnant female louse crawls onto the hair, lays nits and secretes them with a little droplet of protein liquid that causes them to harden. Nits are basically eggs, glued on to a strand of hair, close to the scalp about a quarter of inch from the skin. If you see something in your child’s hair that doesn’t budge when you touch it or blow on it, then it just might be a nit.
Each day nits get a little bigger and darker as they feed on the blood they draw from the scalp, and with every life cycle there are exponentially more lice than before.
If a child has a heavy case of lice, they will likely be spotted right away. But according to Peter Byram of Lice Happens, if you’re dealing with an early case—approximately a week-and-a-half old—there will probably be one bug and some nits, which can be easily missed during a cursory check.
Byram said that no one should kid themselves that their child just has nits and no lice. He compared it to a chicken coop. “If there are eggs in the coop, there’s a hen around somewhere. Nits don’t lay themselves.”
Lice are most commonly found around the ears and base of the hairline, close to the neckline. But there’s good news: They are very easy to treat. Although you may not want to.
The CDC, WebMD, Johns Hopkins University and the American Academy of Pediatrics are just some of the many organizations that provide online resources for lice, including a wealth of information on the efficacy and various types of treatments including over-the-counter products, prescription-based rinses and home remedies. For example, the active ingredient in the name brand Rid is piperonyl butoxide with pyrethrins, a pesticide that derives from chrysanthemums and is safe to use on children 2 years and older, unless, of course, you are allergic to chrysanthemums. Permethrin, another pesticide, is the active ingredient found in the name brand product Nix, and has been approved to use on babies two months and older.
There are many mixed opinions regarding the efficacy of home remedies that use all kinds of ingredients and substances fresh from your kitchen pantry or bathroom cabinet that can include, in no particular order, Crisco, petroleum jelly, mayonnaise, cooking oil and plain old conditioner in copious amounts. The logic behind the use of these thick, oily substances is that the hair is doused in them for a few hours, ultimately causing the lice and eggs to suffocate. When it comes time to rinse, dish soap is recommended because regular shampoo would not necessarily be strong enough to adequately rinse out a substance used to make schnitzel.
But according to Byram, those techniques are not only old-school but also grotesque. He and his wife, Audrey, instead provide a mobile service where they will come to your home and not only help you get rid of your lice issue, but also teach you how to treat your family for lice.
They start by screening the entire family, treating anyone who is infested and teaching the families how to do exactly what they are doing to avoid paying for a follow-up visit. “We try to keep the cost down … and if we find [lice or nits], we start teaching the parents how to [get rid of them] … and to keep the process moving,” Byram said.
The Byrams’ process is all-natural and 100% holistic. They use a product which is a naturally occurring enzyme which breaks down the glue that holds the nits in the hair.
“We don’t use anything to kill anything,” Byram said. “The trick is getting rid of not just the bugs, but getting rid of the nits.” And for that, combing is the key. You will need a lice comb that is ideally metal and has two-inch teeth with helix-spiral grooves. The grooves are essential for picking up the nits/eggs.
The child’s hair should be wet, completely detangled and divided into sections. The comb should graze the skin as it goes from the scalp to the edges. “Go over every square centimeter of hair a few times by keeping the comb against the scalp, pulling it through the hair and wiping it on a paper towel,” Byram advised. This will allow you to see if there are any darker colored specs on a white background, which could be nits. Once you are confident that every strand of hair has been combed, rinse the comb and clean it with rubbing alcohol.
Then put it away … until the following night.
You read that right. You have to repeat this process because the nits are not all hatching on the same exact life cycle, and chances are high that there are still eggs that are so young and small that the comb cannot not pick them up yet. It takes a few days for those eggs to get big enough to get caught in the grooves. WebMD advises doing this comb-out process for about three weeks.
Linens and clothing worn by the infested person should be washed and dried on high heat since heat kills off the lice. Brushes can be soaked in hot water at least 130F for 5-10 minutes. Other places suggest placing them in the freezer for a few hours (in a Ziploc bag, of course). A good vacuuming on both the floor and any upholstered furniture is recommended. But other than that, Byram said that “95% of your effort needs to be on the combing of the child’s head.
“Lice don’t hop. Lice don’t jump. But they crawl. And they spread through clothing, towels, brushes, stuffed animals, etc. And it has absolutely nothing to do with how many times a day you shower or how clean your home is,” Byram stressed.
“But I always tell families when the parents are horrified by this, if this is the worst health crisis your child goes through, it is a pretty blessed life.”
To contact Lice Happens, visit www.licehappens.com or call 973-727-8902 and ask for Audrey or Peter.
For more information on lice, you can visit: