April 19, 2016
OK, call me an American snob, but I do NOT think it is ‘normal’ for kids to run around with bugs in their hair. I’m from California and much more of a crunchy tree hugger than most, but even I didn’t grow up thinking it was okay to have bugs running amok on my head. The one kid I ever knew who did have lice was literally shamed out of most social circles. Not kidding. I’d like to think the stigma for head lice has evolved a bit, but I’m not sure it has and whilst I, myself, am no longer afraid of head lice, I do harbour resentment toward those who aren’t educated about how to treat the problem and continue to let their kids spread it around.
When my daughter started nursery three and a half years ago about a month in there was a notice, very nonchalantly, put up outside the door stating simply: ‘Nits in the Nursery’. I’d never heard this term before, so I had to ask the headmaster what it meant and he, incorrectly, told me that nits were head lice and that I needed to check my daughter’s head that night. I had her coat in my hand which I was just about to put on the shared coat peg and asked him if they transmitted via coats. He also incorrectly told me ‘no’.
Well, I’ve never made that mistake again. The majority of British adults I speak with about head lice call them ‘nits’ and appear either ill informed or disinterested about head lice facts, their life cycles, and how they spread. What happened from our first exposure to head lice I since perceive as years of hell trying to prevent catching them whilst talking to other parents about how to treat them when their kids were the culprit spreaders. We made it nearly 2 more years before I was doing our weekly routine head check (except I had mistakenly skipped a week when there had been a case of lice in the class, and admittedly I had no idea what to look for) when I found the ever dreaded moving needle in the haystack. But by then I was actually prepared. A like-minded good friend of mine had just suffered through an extreme head lice outbreak with her kid and I had helped her prepare a mini brochure (see a theme going on here) for her daughter’s class. I then found Hairforce – lice assassins! and treated the whole family to a professional head check. Well worth the money spent, plus the owner Dee, is a wealth of information on how to treat and prevent one from ever getting lice again. She’s also a believer in the emotional damage that having lice causes – much more so than most adults suspect.
When any of my American friends with primary aged children move to London, they cannot get their heads around the lack of local concern for the head lice problem. Whilst I no longer need a pint glass of G&T when we have kids in the house with lice (I can spot them a mile away – it’s mostly the double-fisted scratching of the head that tips me off), I still don’t understand why British people seem un-phased by this problem not to mention total time suck. I’ve had some of the school moms call me neurotic. Yes, I guess I am neurotic if that means I don’t want a communicable disease. Have you ever heard of scabies? Some call them body lice, but they are body mites and classified as a STD. Shouldn’t head lice be classified in a similar, noteworthy vein as they, too, are highly communicable? Policy says you have to keep your kid at home until it is treated, and by that they mean a dose of chemicals and wham, back into the classroom. We wouldn’t put up with a scabies outbreak in our kids’ classrooms, or even fleas on on our pets, so why is it okay to return your kid back (often same day) with a potential 7-11 day egg cycle festering on his head? Another British mom I know says when she finds them in her kids’ hair, she just flicks them onto the floor. Sounds pretty hygienic, doesn’t it?
And please don’t try to tell me ‘lice prefer clean hair’. Whoever made that one up clearly had a bad case of lice and then passed around this tid bit out of embarrassment and for some weird reason all the rest of us have held onto it as the new urban legend. Scientifically, lice do not PREFER clean hair. They prefer ANY hair. And if you are regularly involved in say washing and bathing your child, then you would spot a head lice problem. They are not that small. One boy we know has an ongoing problem and it’s easy to see why. He has what can only be described as unkempt and unwashed tresses. No way that the lice comb is going through his hair twice weekly or even once a term. To manage them in British preschools, you have to comb out the hair, comb it out and comb it out again.
Needless to say, we haven’t had lice again. Oh sure, I’ve combed out a random bug here and there, but I check twice a week now – religiously – because it only takes one female. This particular primary school seemed to have a wide spread problem with repeat offenders (my experience says it’s generally the same families who either don’t believe lice is preventable or don’t comb out that exacerbate the problem) so in tandem with one of my British girlfriends (interestingly, she was reared abroad!), we crafted a detailed pamphlet on how to manage, treat and prevent head lice. We also found a pharmaceutical company who was in the process of creating a ‘better than Hedrin’ topical treatment (which incidentally, I don’t necessarily support since combing with a metal comb is all that is needed) boasting 30 minutes on the head, rather than the standard 8 hour overnight treatment. This company was ever-so-willing to come into the school and educate the students, staff and parents on the ‘what’s and how’s’ of head lice management. My daughter still talks about it as they brought in a terrarium filled with hair that was infested with lice! Too cool in a disgusting way for a 5 year old, and just the right amount of memorable to know you don’t want those on your head!
However, I still get discouraged when we have play dates or classmates who seem to have ongoing head lice especially when the parents insist that ‘there’s just nothing you can do’ and that it’s not their fault that little ‘so and so’ at school always has them, so it’s inevitable that their kid will as well. Not True. Lice is in fact treatable. It just takes time. If you know of someone at school who has continuous lice, then it’s your responsibility to tell the headmaster/mistress because lice can also be a problem of parental neglect. When my daughter had her lice outbreak, I combed out just over 20 bugs. Dee at the Hairforce said that was a lot, but some people come in with 250 live bugs in their hair. So, if your kid has double digit live bugs in his hair, consider how much time you’ve been giving your kid lately, or consider that your combing technique is really bad. You can see this many bugs with the naked eye. Another friend of mine is a GP and her daughter got an ongoing case that she didn’t notice until she finally saw nits (the hatched and abandoned egg sacks – and NOT the technical term for a head lice outbreak) growing out half way down her very long Rapunzel-esque tresses. She herself admitted neglect as she was going through a very bitter divorce at the time and had not in fact been paying enough attention to her child. If you haven’t been neglectful and are super fastidious and just can’t seem to fight the lice problem, it’s because you aren’t combing correctly with a metal nit comb. There are many great ‘how to’ videos out there on YouTube, linked here to a particularly well explained combing method. And there’s no shame in admitting defeat and calling The Hairforce, they do this for a living and guarantee 100% results.
I know this rant seems judgmental, because it is. And because every time you fail to comb out your kid’s lice infested hair and then send them to school or my house, you create a 72 hour lock down at our house and a total laundry nightmare. Everything soft has to be bagged so the lice will suffocate and everything washable has to go in at 60 degrees or above. We are not interested in losing 3 days of our lives because you can’t take the time to comb out your kid’s head. Just comb it out folks, twice a week. That’s all I’m asking.
For a copy of my detailed ‘treat and prevent head lice’ brochure, email me. And, Nitty Gritty sells a lovely metal lice comb for around £9.