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September 2014 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family

Lice lessons: What to do when they visit YOUR home

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Parents dread getting that note from school or a text from another mother that a classmate has lice. They cautiously give their kids’ hair a quick search, find a louse, and panic. Memories of childhood experiences make us recall the myths and stigma about lice. Lice are not a sign of a dirty house or a dirty child, and they can show up on anyone. In fact, six to 12 million school-aged children are treated for lice each year.

“We all seem to equate it with cleanliness, but really, it’s more like catching the flu or a cold from someone,” says Mary Spryer, a California mom of two.

The way to ease the panic caused by this minuscule menace is to equip yourself with a good plan, so that you’ll be ready when necessary:

Keep calm and buy the shampoo. Head lice are common among children 3 to 12 years of age, though children as young as 2 months old can be treated with an over-the-counter lice shampoo. If you are pregnant or have a child younger than 2 months old, consult your doctor about other available treatments. Over-the-counter shampoo treatments usually contain only one percent permethrin solution, which is enough to be neurotoxic to lice, but very mild to humans.

Home remedies abound on blogs and websites, but they are not recommended for use alone. Dr. Roberta Winch, pediatrician at Pediatric Associates in Sammamish, Washington found that mayonnaise helped her pick the nits out of her child’s long, thick hair, but she recommends using a lice shampoo to kill the live lice first.

Get comfortable with a comb. There is a reason that nit-picking means being excessively concerned with small details. Nits are small white lice eggs that are teardrop shaped and stick to one side of the hair shaft. A louse is light brown and can be as tiny as a carrot seed. Lots of debris can get stuck in your child’s hair and look like lice: food, flakes of dry skin, dirt or plant matter. However, lice move and nits cling to the hair shaft and are hard to remove. If you can flick or blow it away, it’s not a nit.

Use a spray bottle of water or detangling solution to wet-comb your child’s hair with a fine-toothed lice comb. Wipe your comb on a paper towel and check for nits on the towel. Continue each day until you no longer find nits as you comb. Letting your child watch a movie, read a book, or play a handheld gaming device will help her sit still.

You’re gonna do a lot of laundry. Wash and dry clothing, bedding, and stuffed animals on the hottest setting you can. Vacuum car interiors, mattresses, and the surfaces of furniture and floors in your house and wash sheets frequently for the next few weeks. Store items that can’t be washed in garbage bags that are closed up and set aside for two weeks.

“Adult lice can survive up to 55 hours without a host and eggs can hatch up to ten days later,” says Dr. Winch. “It takes 12 days for a newly hatched egg to become an adult.”

Cleaning and doing laundry can seem overwhelming, but don’t assume you’re surrounded by these nefarious creatures. Head lice crawl, rather than hop or fly, and are not transmittable to or from your pets. Also, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, unless there is a heavy infestation, a louse isn’t likely to wander off a person’s head, because as soon as it does, it starts to die of starvation.

An ounce of prevention. Check your child’s hair once a week for lice or nits. Lice Knowing You, a lice removal chain on the West Coast has the motto, “Take a peek once a week.” If you find one in your weekly search, you’ll likely catch it early and have a milder case. Remind your child not to share helmets, hair bands, brushes, or hats. It is also helpful to use a lice-repellent shampoo and detangling solution (such as Fairy Tales) on your child’s hair and keep it in a ponytail or braid for school and camp.

Ultimately, educating yourself about how to look for lice and checking regularly are the best ways to avoid getting lice. Tara Clark, a mom of two girls from Washington State says, “Talk to friends with children of a similar age, and you will learn that everybody deals with it. It helps to know you aren’t the only one.” Take it from moms who have been there.

Let’s get real about lice. When they show up at your house, it’s not the end of the world. Things will get better, but first you’ll have a lot of laundry to do!

Ruth Hanley has two daughters and she did a lot of laundry, vacuuming, and combing last year when lice came to visit her house. She was glad to see them go.

Posted 12:00 am, September 22, 2014
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