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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Head Lice and the Parental Freak-Out*

Copyright© 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
June 14, 2011
as "Freaking out over tiny invaders"

The other day I arrived at work to find one of my co-workers in full freak-out mode.  This is not an unusual state of mind for her, as she is a person about whom one could say, “She is such a Mom.”  When Sarah Palin uses the term “Mama Grizzly” she is describing my friend to a “T.”
Anyway, the subject of that particular day’s rant was news of a head lice outbreak in one of the classrooms at her daughter’s school.  (To avoid a full-scale wide-spread Mama Grizzly freak-out, I will leave the identity of that school to the administrators.)
Raising children at times can be a process of moving from freak-out to freak-out over any number of causes.  Flu outbreaks, bullies, food recalls, pollution, poison ivy, bee and wasp stings, allergies, emergency room visits, are all part of the parenting experience.  We get exasperated when they’re bouncing off the walls and constantly getting into trouble…you know, “acting normal.”  But if a threat emerges, no matter how large or small, parents, especially Moms, go into crazy protective mode.  That’s a good thing, generally speaking, especially when a child sees to what extent their parents are willing to go on their behalf. 
Of all the calamities of childhood, head lice is by far the most exasperating.  The sheer amount of work involved in ridding the child and the home of an infestation is daunting.  Back in our parenting days 25 years ago, this meant, pulling every single thing made of fabric out of the house and washing them all for multiple cycles in very hot water and bleach.  Then, doing a thorough cleaning of the house (real knees-on-the-floor scrub brush-in-hand work).  Then, the process of cleaning the child’s (or children’s) scalp.  This involves a trip to the drug store, surreptitiously removing the popular brand from the shelf, and waiting for an empty cashier line so nobody knows, covering yourself with a muttered, “this is for a friend.”  Once safely home, you put on plastic gloves, applied the shampoo, grabbed the fine-toothed comb and commenced to prospecting. Then and only then could a parent feel they had rescued their home from that army of foreign invaders.

Science marches on and over the decades, much has been learned.  Statistics are hard to come by, but most sources agree on the range of 6 to 12 million cases per year in the United States. As many as 80% of elementary schools have reported an outbreak.   Head lice was once thought to come only from “dirty children,” but that’s not true.   Pediculosis capitis, which is how doctors say “head lice,” cares not whether the head was last washed this morning or two weeks ago.  These little critters feed on human blood.  The small bit of saliva excreted at the bite site causes a skin irritation, hence the itching.  Now, according to the authoritative sources I checked, head lice don’t carry any diseases.  This is different from body lice, or “crabs” which is a different creature altogether.  However, the constant itching can cause scratches that could become infected.
Treatments are available on any drug store shelf, but there are new things coming down the pike.  One popular home remedy was to smear the child’s head with mayonnaise or something similar, with the aim of smothering the lice.  However, lice are able to close off their breathing for periods of time until the mayo is washed off.  In 2010, researchers writing in the journal Pediatric Dermatology identified a substance called benzyl alcohol lotion 5% as “a safe and effective topical treatment for head lice.”  This substance shocks the lice into keeping their breathing apparatus open, and they are then smothered by the stuff itself.
As far as backpacks, clothes and bedding are concerned, lice will starve after three days without eating, so if the materials are kept outside for that period of time, they will die.  Also, they are susceptible to high heat, so washing in very hot water will also take them out.
Raising kids is both a job and an adventure.  With a little foresight and education, parents can get through these years with a minimum of freak-outs and even a measure of peace.
But let me tell you.  If head lice freaks you out, wait until they start driving.
Meinking, Villar, Vicaria, Eyerdam, Paquet, Mertz-Rivera, Rivera, Hiriart, and Reyna. The Clinical Trials Supporting Benzyl Alcohol Lotion 5% (UlesfiaTM), a Safe and Effective Topical Treatment for Head Lice (Pediculosis humanus capitis). Pediatric Dermatology, 2010 DOI: 10.1111/j.1525-1470.2009.01059.x

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