There are as many different types of parenting styles as there are parents, but there is one way in which we’re all pretty much the same: the minute we find out that our child has head lice, we Freak Out, big time. The questions, the stress, and the shame can seem monumental: How did this happen? How did I not notice this earlier? Does this mean our house is infested, too? How will I ever tell the other parents in the carpool?
These days, though, freaked-out parents don’t have to need to deal with head lice alone. There are local services to help you calm down and get your kid lice-free, and they offer everything from in-salon treatment, to house calls, to herbal “lice repellent” potions to make sure this never, ever happens again.
“The first thing I do when we see a family is get everyone ‘off the ledge’ of feeling like they’re in crisis,” says Gonne Asser, whose Minnesota Lice Lady salon is in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Edina. “I try to take the stress down and sympathize with the parent, who is feeling very overwhelmed,” she adds. Asser, the mother of three children, did research during her kids’ lice outbreaks, and found that she was eventually giving advice to friends when their kids were infested. “I have a background in human services, and I used to work with homeless youth, so I’m kind of a crisis personality,” she jokes.
The business development story is pretty much the same for Simply Nitty, an in-home lice removal business that covers the metro area. By the time her “lice magnet” daughter had suffered through a fifth outbreak, and she’d had two infestations herself, Dana Mead-Campion began to feel like something of an expert on the creepy crawlers. That personal experience was the impetus behind the business that she founded 18 months ago with Krista Morley. “Both of us had backgrounds in the medical industry, and we threw ourselves into research on lice treatments, products, and removal methods,” says Mead-Campion.
Beware of resistant strains
The field of pediculosis (the official name for an infestation of head lice) is changing rapidly, and the Internet contains a great deal of outdated or misleading information, but there do seem to be some key facts that experts agree upon. One of the scariest prospects has to do with resistant strains. Asser says, “Lice are evolving faster than correct information is being circulated, and many over-the-counter products are no longer effective.” Mead-Campion agrees, noting, “If you try an over-the-counter treatment and still see live lice after 20 minutes, it might mean that the treatment won’t be effective because your child is infested with a resistant strain. Most of our clients have already tried and failed with at-home treatments before, which is why they call us.”
Have you started scratching your head yet? Here’s another grim thought—even if your kid isn’t scratching, that doesn’t mean lice aren’t around. Some children can be “asymptomatic,” which means that they can carry lice on their head for weeks—even months—before anyone notices.
1,000 lice: one mom’s story
One such Twin Cities parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, recounted the story of her daughter, whose long, dark hair fell just about two inches above her elbows. “The infestation happened when she was in fourth grade. I had seen white flakes on her scalp, but I thought it was dandruff, especially since she never scratched her head or complained,” the mom recalls. “Then she told me one day that she had found a bug on her pillow in the morning, and, that afternoon, when we were driving together in the car, she took off her headband and said, “There are bugs on this.” I was sitting at a stoplight, using my phone to Google what head lice look like, because I suddenly realized that’s what was happening.” The mom, who took the child first to a pediatrician and then to Minnesota Lice Lady, says that the staff there worked for over three hours to remove more than 1,000 lice from her daughter’s head. The mom herself and the girl’s two siblings turned out to be infested, as well. “They told me she had probably been had head lice for months, and just wasn’t a kid who felt itchy.”
Schools, lice and public policy
While most schools used to operate under a “no nit” policy, which mandated that children remain out of school until all nits were removed, that is no longer the case in many. Multiple districts made a shift after 2002 revisions to policies from American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). Along with a recommendation to strongly discourage “no nit” policies, the groups offered the opinion that classroom-wide or school-wide screening is not merited.
The elimination of “no nit” policies was, strangely enough, strengthened by the No Child Left Behind Act, which tied school funding to absenteeism and 95 percent attendance records for standardized tests. Schools had more reason than ever to encourage every child to be in class, every day, so “no nit” policies were often struck down.
While schools and classrooms are still free to conduct head checks, and while many local businesses offer the service at no charge to schools, this has become a problem that increasingly calls for parental, rather than school, detection and intervention. Indeed, the AAP noted, well over a decade ago, “Parents should be encouraged to check their children’s heads for lice if the child is symptomatic; school screenings do not take the place of these more careful checks.”
Also, “It may be helpful for the school nurse or other trained persons to check a student’s head if he or she is demonstrating symptoms.” But, “because of the lack of evidence of efficacy, classroom or school-wide screening should be strongly discouraged.”
Additionally, in 2011 the NASN stated, “Children found with live head lice should remain in class, but be discouraged from close direct head contact with others. The school nurse should contact the parents to discuss treating the child at the conclusion of the school day. Students with nits only should not be excluded from school.”
How to check
Okay, now are you scratching? If you want to round up the kids and do an immediate scalp check, you’re actually on the right track. Experts say that you should conduct routine checks with a professional-grade lice comb on everyone in the family. Mead-Campion says, “LiceMeister and Terminator are two good brands with lifetime guarantees. When you conduct the check, look for evidence of live lice or white-ish nits, which are the eggs, and which are about one-quarter-inch up the hair shaft. If it feels like a grain of sand and it’s hard to remove, it’s probably a lice nit.”
Most lice are spread through direct head-to-head contact. Think of how your kids snuggle up with friends on the couch to watch a movie on TV, and you’ll get the picture. One prevention method that most experts recommend is to reduce that contact whenever possible, and to keep long hair pulled back in braids, ponytails, or buns. And while many lice repellents haven’t yet been subjected to clinical trials, lice are smell-driven and might be put off by a head that smells more like an herb garden than a kid, so they might be worth a try.
Simply Nitty • Simplynitty.com
Minnesota Lice Lady
3940 Sunnyside Road, Edina
American Academy of Pediatrics statement
National Association of School Nurses statement
September is National Head Lice Prevention Month, says the National Pediculosis Association