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At Home, Caring For Our Kids

Tips for dealing with a summer lice outbreak

Kyle Vuong from Hair Fairies doing a lice check. photo: LIZ FARRELL

Summer means letting your hair down, extra sleepovers, and summer camps. But recently I was reminded of the unfortunate reality that those wonderful pastimes are prime breeding for the dreaded lice bug. My children had all enjoyed a week of camp with their cousins in the East Bay with sleepovers every night. The day after we returned home, I got the alarming text from my sister that she had found bugs in three of her four kids’ hair. I will spare you the details, but let’s just say love and good cheer weren’t the only things spread during that week of camp.

Monday morning, I found myself back in the chair at Hair Fairies on Fillmore Street getting myself and all three kids checked. Just the thought of it makes me start to itch. This wasn’t my first time at this rodeo, so I knew what to expect and what to do. If your family has had lice before then you will understand every sentiment in this article. If your family has so far been spared, then put this advice in a safe place until the day comes when you need it; trust me, that day will come. Here are some simple tips that come in handy year round:

STAY CALM

This is much easier said than done. The first thing I suggest is screaming into a pillow all the expletives that are going through your head. You will feel angry, annoyed, maybe a bit embarrassed — these are all natural reactions but none that you want your child to see you have. The most important thing is to remain calm and for your children not to feel like this is their fault or they did something to cause it. If we could figure out where this treacherous bug comes from and how to stop it for good, this world would be a better place.

The terms to become familiar with are “lice,” which are the actual bugs and “nits,” which are the lice eggs. A quick Internet search of what these look like will make you an expert in no time. The facts to remember are the bugs cannot jump, fly, or swim but rather are passed by head-to-head contact. This is not a hygiene issue — the bugs actually prefer clean and healthy hair because it makes it easier for them to attach and move around.

TAKE ACTION

I always tell people it never hurts to have a nit-free comb on hand. This is now a staple in our bathroom along with Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle shampoo and conditioner. These are both good preventative measures. I still regularly comb my daughter’s hair with the nit-free comb just to be safe.

If you do have an outbreak in your house, the worst part, besides the hours of endless hair combing, is the laundry. The good news is lice cannot lay eggs on couches or carpet; they need the warmth of the scalp to survive. The bad news is there may have been bugs that fell off her head onto pillows, towels, clothes, etc.  So just to be safe, put all the towels, sheets, comforters, and clothes used in the past few days in large garbage bags and head to the nearest Laundromat with commercial-sized washers and dryers. The last step is to vacuum everything — floors, cushions, couches and just generally do a deep clean. This measure is purely for my own mental peace of mind.

GET PROFESSIONAL HELP

One of the worst mistakes parents can make is thinking they can handle this on their own. These bugs and nits are so small, they are easy to miss, and all it takes is one egg to hatch and the cycle keeps repeating itself, leaving you feeling like there is no end in sight. Luckily, there are two great local options. Martina Mitchell from Lice Patrol (licepatrol.org) will come to your home and the company uses only natural, nontoxic treatments. Mitchell does a very thorough combing and will make follow-up visits until you are all clear. This is a very convenient option.

The other local option is Hair Fairies (hairfairies.com). They offer similar services, but you need to go into the salon, and trying to coordinate your family’s schedules can be tough. Hair Fairies’ products are also nontoxic. Neither option is inexpensive — you should expect to spend several hundred dollars depending on the severity of the outbreak.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer about why this happens or why it appears to be so common. Resistance to many modern shampoos and long hair seem to be contributing factors. Preventative combing after a sleepover, week at camp, or long airplane rides is always a good idea, especially during the summer months.

Also, keeping your son’s hair short helps — you may even be tempted to buzz it all off. For girls, the key is making sure their hair is pulled back in a bun or braid. The best advice I can offer is you will survive — although it will seem like a very long and taxing week and hardly the way you want to spend your summer, but remember if treated properly, the outbreak won’t last forever.

 

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco. E-mail: liz@marinatimes.com