You might not have lice right now.
But what if you do?
It can happen to anyone, especially if you have youngsters in school.
With classes starting up, many parents will get the call that someone in the class is being treated for lice.
Moms greet it with dread.
That little, grayish bug with its craggy legs, hungry mouth and extreme, microscopic egg-laying capacity—it’s enough to make you lock yourself in the bathroom.
That’s happened to her before, says professional lice remover Michelle Fraternali, owner of Nitwits of Louisiana.
She’s heard of client’s stuffing their mattresses stuffed into the trash before she arrives at their home.
One parent asked Fraternali if she would go on vacation with the family in case the lice followed them there.
Others try to hide her when she shows up to de-louse the family.
“I tell them it’s really not anything to be embarrassed about,” says Fraternali, whose warm, maternal aura calms parents as she’s helping them rid their home of the pests.
Lice are such a common Baton Rouge phenomenon, she says, that she stays busy year-round.
Do an informal survey, and you’ll be surprised to find out how many of your friends have had lice. It often happened in secret. It’s just not something people are going to post on Facebook.
“They’re just like any other insect,” Fraternali says. “They are around all the time.”
She says her business spikes after the holidays. When school starts, too, the number of cases goes up.
“That’s the time when I find people are spending a lot of time together, hugging and hanging out,” she says.
So how do we prevent them? Use hairspray, the old timers say. And don’t share combs, hats or helmets.
Though they are as common as crawfish, the word lice often triggers a cascade of anxiety and embarrassment among those who discover, after the sudden onset of extreme head scratching, kid edition, that they’ve got them.
In truth, lice carry no diseases, and they can’t live on pets.
But they can be a nuisance and cause other problems, including infection where children have scratched at the bites. Lice are actually more attracted to clean hair, since it’s easier for them to attach their little claws to hair shafts that lack oil.
If you’ve got lice and mention it to any member of your circle of friends, prepare for a long lesson on folk remedies—everything from Pantene Shampoo to coconut oil, mayonnaise and vinegar.
Prepare to get skeins of research that shows just how toxic those over-the-counter lice-killing shampoos are. A boy in London who died because he got cancer after his mom scrubbed his head with a lice shampoo.
Get ready to hear all kinds of tricks for how to inspect the zillions of hair follicles on the noggins of your offspring: Get a headlamp. Tweezers. A good comb off the Internet, not one of those cheesy plastic ones that come in the lice shampoo package. And, whatever you do, look at each. Individual. Strand. Of. Hair.
You might go a little crazy. But relax, that’s normal.
You’ll learn to recognize the different stages of louse development. You’ll realize why words such as lousy, its origin in 1350, are still with us and heard today.
And don’t bother cleaning your whole house, Fraternali says. Lice can’t live very long off of your child’s noggin, so that’s the only battleground that needs your attention. After the lice are no longer living on little Jane or Bobby’s skull, then you can start vacuuming and washing bedding. No need to throw away the mattress or hire a detailing crew.
“A good vacuum cleaner is your best tool for dealing with lice,” Fraternali says.
Fraternali was inspired to get into de-lousing when her daughter kept coming home with a tough case. It took three treatments to get rid of them.
She came across a medical device called the LouseBuster, licensed by Utah-based Larada Sciences, while reading The New York Times.
The LouseBuster looks like a large vacuum cleaner. Fraternali directs air that’s been heated to 128.3 degrees—the exact temperature that kills lice—on sections of hair through a postcard-sized wand with soft rubber teeth. The process takes 30 minutes and kills all the bugs in one treatment. The cost: $200 for the first head. $150 for every one after.
That’s steep, but it saves time since the treatment kills the lice eggs, too. That saves families weeks of carefully inspecting each hair on each head.
Fraternali often watches the grown lice run away from the heat as if louse Armageddon has ensued. Then they all fall onto a smock she’s draped around the client’s shoulders.
That’s right. Eww.
But also, hooray for technology.
Using a more traditional approach, Allison Kirby was once known as the Louisiana Lice Lady. Her manual de-lousing service helped many a family. Now a new mom, she’s on hiatus and considering going into church ministry when she starts work again.
“When I would be delousing people, we’d get to talking and I’d have a chance to tell them about the Lord,” Kirby says.
She felt especially humbled by the process of caring for—literally—each hair on people’s heads. After awhile, she says, it felt like lice might even be Heaven-sent as a way to get folks to slow down and learn to depend on each other.
“Getting rid of lice is a family affair,” she says.
People are often close to the edge when they are having this unexpected encounter with nature. They are, at that point, open to hearing about faith, she says. God works in mysterious ways. And Kirby is looking forward to sharing her beliefs without having to carry a nit comb.
Whether looking for a religious experience or not, if you find out your children have lice, have patience and be kind to yourself.
You will survive and maybe even, one day, look back fondly on the time you counted every precious hair on their little heads.