I'm cringing just saying it in my head. What is it about lice that makes you scratch the second you hear it? Or think about it? And why is it so taboo? Why do people not talk about it until after the fact?
Lice infestations afflict 6-12 million people in the US yearly and the number is on the rise.
**Please Read This! I am sucking up my pride here and if I help just one person then it is not for naught. I promise to not share photos.**
This post will be somewhat informative only because I have information oozing out of me at the moment after my nightmarish week from hell. (I don't know about you, but when I am in panic mode I tend to read- perhaps in an attempt to regain some control over the situation.) But mostly this is just one mom's thoughts and raw emotions documented for your benefit. If you don't want to read it all, just read the bolded print or skip to the end.
When you see that 6 legged parasitic critter crawling through your own kid's hair... Holy crap. There are no words.
Your heart stops. Your eyes bulge. Your mind races. You go into denial, then immediate shock. How did this happen? When did this happen? For the love of God why the h--- did this happen? This is my worst nightmare staring me in the face...
Boy they are such disgusting creatures. Do they even have a purpose being here? Spiders are nasty, but they help limit the insect population, at least that's what I'm told. Bees are annoying, but they help pollinate plants. They even make honey. Lice? They have no purpose. They are here to torment and piss me off and make me feel dirty and disgusting as I slouch over my kid's head for seven straight hours into the wee hours of the morning until I'm so sore I can barely walk myself to my bed.
Myth 1: It can't happen to me.
I've known people who have experienced lice, but my kids are 9 and 11 and we have never dealt with it. We are clean folks. I keep a tidy house. I thought for sure we were home free. But little did I know- lice afflicts all. At any time. And usually when you are least suspecting and when you are complacent and comfortable thinking "this could never happen to me".
Don't ever dismiss a child's itch. If your child is scratching their head more than normal, it could be a red flag. It could also be several weeks into the lice infestation and by this time, there could be multiple sores or severe irritation from all of the itching which was the case for us. If not tended to immediately it could turn into an infection.
Until you see that first louse you will never totally understand the sheer magnitude of emotions that will plague you. Guilt, Fear, Anxiety, Distress, Shame, Repulsion- to name a few. They take over and turn you into a really crazy version of yourself. Scary. Especially to a little person looking to you for comfort. After my little one starting convulsing I realized that I needed to get a grip. I am the mom here and this is just a bug. I promised that I would get every last one of those nasty buggers out of their hair, but that it might take some time. That was no lie.
Myth 2: Just wash your hair with lice shampoo.
Once the hair is washed with the delousing shampoo of choice, there may still be live bugs crawling around. Wish I'd known that little bit of info. And it does absolutely NOTHING for the eggs that will soon hatch (generally 1-2 weeks after they are laid)- which most people don't realize. If you fail to get even one of those eggs out there will soon be live bugs crawling around and the cycle will start again. Now I know where nitpicking originated. There is nothing worse than looking strand by strand for tiny, microscopic nits that are cleverly hidden away in our very own locks and almost impossible to catch with the naked eye. You may want to invest in a good magnifying glass. Some will be white if they have already hatched or died, others brown that house a live bug inside. A flashlight or a really bright light is a must in order to detect all of them. Even when you think you have them all- you will check later and find more. That is why multiple sessions are required for the first week or two and then daily checks thereafter until you feel confident that all nits are found. Be vigilant. The female louse can lay as many as 6-8 eggs per day, so there may be hundreds to remove depending on the duration of the infestation.
I know that I, personally, will continually check heads- perhaps on a weekly basis for a very long time. I might need to make a visit or two to my local chiropractor at some point in the near future. Nothing about lice hunting is good for the body.
And expense? Be prepared to spend several hundreds of dollars. Lice killing products don't come cheap- especially if multiple family members are infested. Not to mention replacement of anything, say a rug or two that you washed and ruined in a state of panic. The robi comb has been a peace invoking tool for me and worth every penny. It will detect and terminate a louse. ( Retails for about $30.)
Myth 3: Lice like dirty hair.
Contrary to what most of the ignorant population believe (myself included up until last week), lice prefer a clean head of hair. There seems to be a misconception that lice only reside in lower income homes. The problem is that so many families do not have the financial means or know-how to completely rid their homes of lice and subsequently the lice linger and families have multiple reinfestations.
Unfortunately for me, the prepubescent years seem to be an ideal time for lice. Children start attending sleepovers, sharing combs and clothing, playing beauty shop, and taking care of their own hair- which makes detection much more difficult. Had I been blow drying and/or curling their hair like I used to detection would have been much sooner and the chances of a bug taking up residence there would have been much less. Shoulda woulda coulda... Now we will move forward and new rules have been put into play.
There will be no more sleepovers indefinitely. No sharing of brushes or combs. I will use a heating tool daily for at least 2 weeks and regularly thereafter. (I've been told that the heat kills the nits.) Vinegar will be used on the hair a few times a week (it loosens the glue that makes the nits attach to the hair shaft and also makes the chances of them attaching less likely) and mayonnaise treatments will be used periodically (it suffocates the lice after 30 minutes) just for peace of mind. Sure, you may smell like a salad, but so worth it to be rid of any bugs. I've also read that blue listerine, cetaphil, vaseline, olive oil, tea tree oil- and several other herbal products do wonders to make lice stay away. Read up. There are tons of products that smother them or that they don't like the smell of. Let's outsmart them.
Myth 4: Lice jump and everyone will get it.
Lice are some of the slowest moving critters I've seen. They do not have wings and therefore can't fly and their stumpy legs make it impossible to jump. They can only be transferred via bedding, clothing (including coats, scarves, and hats), or close proximity of hair. And there is still a chance that you won't get it. Only 1 of the 4 in our household was affected even after weeks of having it and our being in the dark. We even shared brushes. Lice only live on a human host, so your pet is also safe from this parasite. I've also read that african american hair is not a favorite of the louse, possibly because of the structure of the hair shaft.
Another important bit of information that may have been nice to know in my initial state of panic is that lice can only live for up to 48 hours without a host. So, if you have any bugs in your home it is more likely that they are dead than alive.
Vacuuming, spraying, washing clothing and bedding exposed, drying stuffed animals, coats or pillows (or putting into a garbage bag for 2 weeks), and tossing or boiling brushes is a good idea though. Better to err on the side of caution. Make sure to vacuum right where you have been delousing. Heaven forbid any were to fall on the floor.
My dryer is on the fritz and not the best for massive amounts of laundry. In retrospect a trip to the laundromat may have been a better idea.
Myth 5: Your child may only go back to school lice free.
This is the most disturbing discovery of all, and may even be the reason we contracted it in the first place. The Cedar Rapids Community Schools do not require children to be lice free before returning to school. They could have bugs crawling around and be allowed to stay in the classroom. The Iowa Department of Public Health only says that "treatment should be started before returning to school" but the schools do nothing to verify or enforce this and shampoo treatments do not guarantee the removal of the crawling lice. Some lice are even becoming resistant to the over-the-counter treatments (permethrin and pyrethrin- which includes rid and nix). It took us 2 treatments plus a night with mayonaisse to finally get rid of all of the live bugs.
You should find out what your school's lice policy is. Most school districts do require a head check by a nurse before they are able to return, but evidently this is not the growing trend. The American Academy of Pediatrics came out recently saying that head lice pose no disease risk and that "there's no evidence that sending a child home reduces the spread of lice, or that in-school screenings can control outbreaks".
I am not certain if our school's lice policy is based on "no risk of disease" or if it is a "lack of funding when there are not enough children in the classroom" issue. Either way, it does not make me feel warm and fuzzy as a mom. Particularly a mom of a child who was infested most likely by a classmate that is probably still carrying the bug. This thought makes me feel sick.
Lice is not like the flu or a cough that will eventually go away on it's own. It is a lengthy, labor intensive process that takes diligence and consistency on your own part to be rid of it.
And as parents we musn't get complacent. Prevention and early detection is a much easier route.
Please, Please- go check your child's head right now. This very minute. Before you forget. Whether your child is 2 or 12; if they have been at daycare, church, camp, a sleepover, school, a friend's house, the movies, football practice, an airplane, a crowded room, or scouts. Whatever it be- do me this one favor and look at their head now. If you find something on the hair shaft (most often located behind the ears or at the nape of the neck) that is close to the scalp, oval, white to yellowish in color, and .8mm to .3mm in size that doesn't want to come off easily, your child might have lice.
Just look. If every parent in America did this today the chances of nipping this in the bud become much greater.
Better to be safe than sorry. Plus, no one wants to be the one to have to call all their closest friends and family and explain that they were possibly exposed to lice because of them.
I hope that you can extract one piece of information from this post that you can use or share with a friend. Let's not be in the dark about this. Knowledge is power. I'm doing what I can. Are you?