Lice Prevention and Removal

Who wants to talk about lice? I know--no one. Until it happens to you. One of my friends just did an extended battle with lice at her daughter's school, and she wrote up this super-comprehensive piece about how to prevent the spread of lice and get rid of them as directly as possible if they happen to you. (She didn't want me to attribute her because she didn't want to be the Lice Hunter forever.)

How to detect lice:
1. The first sign is a child who is scratching his head, especially behind the ears. There may be red bumps on the scalp and neck.  However, not all children are sensitive so an infestation could be asymptomatic.
2. Lice need warmth and prefer the areas behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.  Check for nits regularly [how often, once a week?], especially in these areas.
3. Make sure your child has lice and not dandruff.  Nits are glued onto the hair shaft and will not move when touched. [it would be helpful to refer to a photo on the internet]
4. Nits are visible to the naked eye but are very small.  If you are visually challenged there are binocular magnifiers for about $30 on the internet.

When your child has lice:
1. The chemicals in OTC pediculides (e.g. pyrethrum) have been known to cause acute allergic, anaphylactic and asthmatic reactions.  Furthermore, there is more and more evidence that lice have become resistant to these harmful chemicals.  Less toxic remedies are available, such as enzyme shampoos (Licenders, Lice R Gone). (My recommended shopping list includes: Licenders comb and enzymatic shampoo, baking soda, Pantene conditioner, tea tree oil or citronella oil, witch hazel, and a couple of small spray bottles.  If you don't already have them, you also need plain white paper towels, hair clips for sectioning hair, and olive oil to mix with the essential oils.)
2. A lice killing shampoo will not solve the problem completely because nits will survive even the most potent treatment.  Nits can continue to hatch for 7-10 days after the adult lice have died.  Nits need to be physically removed with a combing process (the high heat that would kill the nit would also damage the hair).  Even when an expert does the comb out, there could still be a nit remaining, so repeated combings everyday for 2 weeks is recommended.
3. The mixture for combing out hair is 1 part white conditioner (such as Pantene) to two parts baking soda.  The color of the paste enables visual identification of the nits and the baking soda provides abrasion for removal of the nits.  The comb must be wiped clean with every swipe onto a plain white paper towel.
4. The technique for combing is to divide the hair into four parts with clips.  Starting at the nape of the neck, separate a small section about the width of the comb. Insert the comb as close to the scalp as possible and comb out four times: once from the top, once underneath, once on the right, and finally on the left.  If no nits are detected, move onto the next small section.  After combing out hair, shampoo as normal and dry hair.  Conduct another visual inspection under bright light.  Pull out any hairs with nits.
5. The choice of louse comb is very important.  The teeth on plastic combs can spread apart and may not remove small nymphs.  On the other hand, the single-piece metal nit comb did nothing but damage and pull hair out.  The best comb is metal with long cylindrical teeth (e.g., Licender, Lice Meister)
6. If a child is found to have lice, everyone in the family must be examined, especially if parents are in contact with the child's bed linens or towels.  (Lying on the same pillow while reading a bedtime story will infect the parent!)
7. Use clean towels every time you wash hair.  Vacuum and use a lint remover to pick up stray hairs.  Scrub combs and hair accessories with lice shampoo and an old toothbrush.  Place brushes in a plastic bag for 2 weeks or buy new ones.
8. A thorough cleaning of the house is necessary after the first treatment: clothing, linens, backpacks, outerwear, hair accessories, headphones, hats, towels, stuffed animals, rugs and any items in contact with the infected individual within the past 48 hours need to be laundered, vacuumed, brushed with a lint roller, or placed in plastic bags.  Afterwards, normal cleaning is sufficient.  Most of the effort should be directed towards keeping your family's heads nit free.

For prevention:
1. Lice can live up to 48 hours without a host.  A nit on a fallen hair could theoretically still hatch. Lice can quickly crawl to a new host via hats, helmets, combs, brushes, barrettes, pillows, rugs, earphones, or towels/jackets/backpacks in shared lockers/closets. Lice/nits need to be physically contained in a plastic bag for 48 hrs. or heat killed in a clothes dryer. I am putting my child's backpack, hats, scarf, and jacket in the dryer for 30 min everyday.
2. It is actually believed that head lice prefer clean hair to dirty hair. Do not wash hair everyday and keep hair oily with olive oil or coconut oil.  Nits cannot easily attach to the hair shaft if it is oily.
3. Lice do not like tea tree oil (insecticide) or citronella oil (insect repellant).  Keep two bottles of repellent spray, one with olive oil and one with witch hazel.  The citronella + olive oil can be added to hair and dabbed on wrists, behind the ears, and at the nape of the neck. The witch hazel + citronella can be sprayed on linens, upholstery, car seats, and other items that cannot be washed or bagged.  Essential oils can also be added to shampoos, laundry detergent, and lotions.
4. Lice can more easily crawl to another head if the hair is loose.  Girls with long hair should keep it up in a bun.
5. Children should be told not to hug each other or touch heads while reading together.

Moxie here again: Aaaahhhhhh! I had no idea. If we get lice, I think the boys and I are all getting our heads shaved. Or at least they will. I'm putting my hair up in a bun as we speak.

Thoughts? Comments? Commiseration?