It’s back to school, where kids will pick up history, geography, mathematics — and bugs. Yes, there’s no way around it; your precious progeny will more than likely come home smarter but sicker, toting common contagions like lice, pink eye, mumps, measles and chickenpox. No need to panic, though, as they’re all easily eradicated — or prevented — if you know what you’re doing.
When Pam Beasley inadvertently carried her kids’ lice infestation into The Office, her solution was to slather her co-workers’ heads with mayonnaise. While fodder for laughs on a television sitcom, the remedy doesn’t pass muster with real health officials. Yes, the oil in mayo will suffocate head lice, but it won’t crack the eggs. Plus, you have to leave the goop on for eight hours, during which time the oil turns rancid. Hardly appetizing for child or lice. Besides, what kid is going to tolerate sandwich dressing on his head for even five minutes?
Actually, what might really get you both squirming is a little lesson on what lice are. These itty-bitty insects start out as eggs, called nits. They’re about the size of a grain of sand, look like dandruff and cling to the hair near your scalp. Once they hatch, the baby lice, called nymphs, look much like their parents, which are about the size of a sesame seed. These little suckers can binge on your blood for up to a month. If that doesn’t make your skin crawl, just the thought of them setting up house amongst your child’s follicles certainly will. But rest assured a lice infestation won’t spread disease, and it doesn’t mean you run a dirty household. Even the squeaky cleanest of homes fall prey to the fast-moving, opportunistic pests. Lice don’t jump like a flea or fly like a, well, fly, but they do migrate quickly and easily through shared hats, hairbrushes and combs, headphones, sheets, pillow cases and anything else that’s transferred from head to head.
The first sign that your child is playing host to the little buggers is if he starts scratching his head and he’s not solving a math problem (although it’s possible not to have any symptoms at all). You’ll probably want to confirm your suspicions with a physician just to be sure you’re not freaking out over a simple case of dandruff or beach sand.
To do your nit-picking, you’ll need a bright light and a lot of patience. A magnifying glass might come in handy, too, since the vile little vermin are hard to see and scurry away from any kind of scrutiny. Divide the hair into small sections and check closely, especially near the scalp, behind the ears and above the neck. The average kid’s head can sport up to 20 live lice and play host to just a few nits without having a full-blown case of head lice.
According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, it’s best to go head to head with the enemy using an insecticide. Sounds dicey, and it can be if you’re not careful. The Society has approved three chemicals to do the deed: pyrethrin, found in R&C Shampoo and Conditioner; permethrin, the base in Nix Creme Rinse or Kwellada-P Creme Rince; and lindane, which is the compound in Hexit Shampoo or PMS-Lindane Shampoo (that last one is so powerful, however, that it’s not recommended for kids under the age of two).
Some parents, like TV’s Pam Beasley, would prefer to go au naturel with a home remedy like mayonnaise, vinegar, olive oil, tea tree oil, etc., but there’s no evidence these options really do the trick. Even a specialized metal lice comb doesn’t completely banish the beasts.
The good news is, since lice can’t survive long off the scalp, there’s no extra cleaning of head gear or sheets apart from washing them in hot water and drying in a hot dryer. You will, however, want to do a thorough vacuum of beds, floors and furniture and soak your combs and brushes in hot water.