Just when you thought it was safe to share hats with classmates, lice lurk again. Like a horror movie with sequel after sequel of unstoppable monster, lice can be the elementary school equivalent to Freddy Krueger – a reoccurring nightmare for teachers, kids, and parents.
It is apropos that this year’s first resurrection occurred the week of Halloween. The little vermin just had to resurface the week when kids are prone to sharing clothing items like costumes and masks without a second thought. Many kids will trick-or-treat though their neighborhood streets with open pillow cases ready to be filled with candy. They might as well be walking around with little lice homes, carrying the pillow pests from their house to mine.
Our family’s first encounter with lice was many years ago. The infestation brought with it a sense of shame that I feared made us lesser parents than we were. We found solace in the fact that The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website clearly says that, “personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting head lice.” Still, the idea of having blood sucking parasites hidden in our children’s hair was not an appealing thought.
Our own lice experience led way to our very vocal opposition to sending kids back to school until they are totally debugged. With this stance, Alicia has earned the reputation as the unofficial lice buster of our kids’ elementary school. The most recent outbreak did not even directly involve our kids (that we know of so far). A parent of a stricken child contacted Alicia asking for her two-kids-already-surviving-elementary-school-wisdom. Alicia called for two plans of action – offense for our friend and defense for our family.
Referring back to The Center of Disease Control website for offense, all household members of an infected person should be checked for nits (lice eggs), nymphs (children lice I halfheartedly joke), and the adult louse. Nits have an incubation period of about one week and an adult louse can live up to thirty days feeding on a person’s head.
Over the counter treatment shampoos are available at neighborhood pharmacies. It is important to check for FDA approved ingredients such as Pyrethrins combined with piperonyl butoxide or Permethrin. While these ingredients are like a silver bullet is to a werewolf for the adult louse, they will not kill unhatched nits. For this reason, retreatments are necessary a few days after initial treatments so that newly hatched nymphs can be stopped before they can lay eggs. The life cycle of the creatures must come to a complete end to irradiate the problem.
Although it is said that head lice do not survive long if they have fallen off a person and cannot feed, I’ve seen enough horror movies to realize that sometimes you cannot keep a bloodsucker down. For this reason, our family is big on the supplemental treatments to help avoid re-infestation. Clothing, bed linens, hats, teddy bears, and other items that the infested person wore or used during the two days before treatment should be washed in water at a temperature of 130°F and dried on the high heat cycle. Furniture, carpets, and other flooring should be thoroughly vacuumed incase fallen hairs contain a creature or two.
Our family’s defense included a thorough spot check of all members for nits, nymphs, and lice. It also included asking our friend to be honest of her current situation and informing the school. This way, classmates could be checked, floors and carpets could be vacuumed, and the pillows in the reading area could be washed.
Additionally, we went over some basic lice defense rules with our younger two. Just like there rules with the mogwai in the movie Gremlins – never get them wet, do not expose them to sunlight, and never feed them after midnight – we have our own set of house rules. We never share hats. We do not put of heads near the heads of our friends. And we never, ever lay on the giant pillows in the reading area of any classroom.