How I became a fan of nit-picking: One mom’s account of a recent head lice diagnosis

Disclaimer: Just by reading this blog post, you may find yourself itching

Growing up, a diagnosis of head lice could mean the ultimate end to one’s social life. At the very least, it would mean taunts from siblings and certainly looks of suspicion from classmates who would think you never washed your hair.  Being one of the lucky ones who managed to skirt lice throughout my childhood, I developed an exaggerated view of what it would be like to get head lice. My vision included hours of continuous itching, public ridicule and months of battling these pests with no end in sight.

Thanks to a recent bout of head lice in our family, my perspective is no longer a scene from a Halloween horror film. Dare I say, I would choose lice any day over so many other creepy crawly pests like bed bugs.

Comic by local Seattle artist Emile Bess. Bess is an entomologist who likes to make comics and fanzines. She teaches entomology at The Evergreen State College and believes that comics and illustration are a great way to learn about science. Learn more at drbess.blogspot.com.
Comic by local Seattle artist Emile Bess. Bess is an entomologist who likes to make comics and fanzines. She teaches entomology at The Evergreen State College and believes that comics and illustration are a great way to learn about science. Learn more at drbess.blogspot.com.

How it happened

After reading an email from my daughter’s school that there were several kids with head lice, I realized that indeed, my daughter had been scratching her head recently. Thankfully, many parents chimed in with suggestions and their shared experiences; helpful tips for checking for lice such as using a lice comb and brushing the comb on a white paper towel to look for lice and nits. We decided to take our whole family and nanny to a local lice detection shop. Turned out, everyone except my nearly bald husband needed treatment.  I can admit that I actually enjoyed the 30 minutes of small-combed nit picking—like a scalp massage with pesticides.  (Clearly I’m a typical mom without a lot of down time.)

We learned that while we needed to wash pillowcases and bedding and bag hair brushes, we also learned that head lice don’t live more than 24 hours without a host. So we didn’t have to do dozens of loads of laundry.  And, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our flexible spending account could be used for the treatment.

Back to school and work

As I brought my daughter back to school, head lice free, I soon realized why kids are notorious for head to head contact. While my colleagues at work gave a warm, compassionate hello, my daughter’s friend immediately ran up to her, hugging to welcome her back. How sweet . . . and sigh, there they were, rubbing heads together again. I also saw a group of friends play-wrestling on the grass. I realized it may be a losing battle, but at least I could remind her to keep her hair back, not share hats, brushes or hair ties and try and give more high-fives instead of rubbing heads together.

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Public Health expert weighs in

So while the recent articles on the head lice superbug may cause parents to have even more fear of the dreaded pests, Dr. Jeanne Rupert, our Medical Director for Community Health Services confirmed,

  • “Lice are not a sign of uncleanliness and don’t spread disease.” [So , as a public health professional, I have other things to worry about]
  • “It can’t spread to your family pets, nor can our pets give us head lice.” [At least our dog was off the hook.]
  • “If the treatment doesn’t seem to be working, speak with your health care provider. They may have other prescription treatments that may be helpful. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s head lice website can answer more of you our head lice questions.”

So on creepy crawly month, I’m outing myself. I’m convinced being a nit picking family isn’t so bad after all.