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Head lice lessons learned this past holiday season

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season.  This year, in addition to all the eating, family time, EATING and gift giving/receiving, the memory made for several in my family related to head lice prevention and treatment.

Over and over, my technicians and I preach about head lice prevention.   We really do sound like broken records, but it’s because we sincerely believe that a full blown case of head lice can be avoided.  However, not everyone believes us or has the inclination to “adhere” to our guidelines.  Until . . .

During the third week of December, my children and I went to visit my sister and her family in Albuquerque. My girls always have a wonderful time with their cousins and the crystal clear air and touchable cloud cover in the mountainous desert area where they live is entrancing.   My sister, her husband and her two children met us at the airport (at about 7 pm the day we arrived) with big hugs and musical/moving Christmas hats that were then passed around for ongoing laughter.   We went straight to one of my favorite places in town for dinner where the children snuggled together on a banquette, and by the time we got back to my sister’s house, it was about 9 pm and everyone was tired.  The kids played a bit of “musical beds” and a couple of them ended up bunking together.

Cousins having dinner with heads touching.

Cousins having dinner with heads touching.

The next day, the children were up early and playing with electronics together.  Head to head, of course.  They continued to play together the whole day.

Later that second day in Albuquerque, my sister asked me to take a look at my 8 year old niece’s neck. There were red bumps evident and one of the lymph nodes in her neck was protruding a bit.   It took me about 30 seconds to identify the “culprit.”  Yes, we had a case of head lice IN DA HOUZ!!!  My gorgeous niece had a case about 3 weeks old in her lovely auburn tresses.  (Although I am hyper aware and suspicious of children scratching their heads – for obvious reasons – my niece was one of the few individuals who was not really itchy or scratching during the day by that point. She did have a couple of abrasions on her scalp, indicating that she was probably scratching at night when the lice were most active/feeding and if it had gone on much longer, she probably would have started scratching quite obviously during the day.  I mention this because so many parents come to Elimilice feeling guilty that they’d not noticed head lice on their own children.  Yet, it took me – someone who’s been looking at head lice daily for several years – almost 24-hours of time spent with my niece to detect her head lice and only then after bumps had been pointed out to me.)

Thankfully, a few years ago, after her children had started school, I’d sent my sister a premier nit comb with some other preventive product.  At the same time, I conveyed head lice preventive guidelines to her.  OK – maybe “not so much” on the preventive guidelines at that point, but at least she she still had the comb (“mint in packaging”) which is the same one used for treatment. With that comb and a little improvising in terms of liquid removal products, I was able to treat my niece (who was an excellent “client” and handled the process and the comb with no complaints of pain.)

I checked my nephew, my sister and my brother in law.  Both my nephew and my sister presented with minimal evidence of head lice (so I recommended an every day or two nit combing for two weeks but no real treatment) and my brother in law had absolutely nothing (so therefore, I advised he could comb in the shower every few days for the next couple of weeks just to be on the safe side).   We had not even been there for 24 hours, but I of course combed both my girls and myself.  With all of the “togetherness” with their cousins, both of my children had already picked up an adult louse (one male and one female.)   Yes, that’s how quickly these situation can “perpetuate.”  Thankfully, my girls did not have any nits or other evidence so they were also on the every day or two thorough combing protocol for two weeks.

Although all bugs and the majority of the nits (eggs) were removed from my niece that first afternoon, because I did not have the Elimilice arsenal of treatment products available, I knew it would be an ongoing process (to completely remove every last bit of evidence).  I set my sister and brother-in-law up on how to properly comb (and this does take a bit of practice) and what products to use and they remained vigilant (with me supervising).  By the third or fourth day we were there, all in the family presented “evidence free” of head lice (but they knew that they would continue combing as advised for the two week duration.)  They engaged  in all the cursory cleaning and returned to their lives pretty much unscathed.

My sister’s family previously shared combs and brushes but now each has his/her own brush that is contained in a small (separate) bin.  My sister contacted all of the friends who had been at my niece’s birthday party a couple of weeks before as well as all those in her second grade class and social groups.  We had some of the combs delivered directly to her to distribute to her friends, and my sister is now an avid believer in the “power of prevention”!!   She’s dedicated to the hair back, product applied and weekly nit combing that is required to eliminate the chance that her children will ever again get a “full blown” case of head lice.

As I’ve said many times before, I do not believe in suggesting that children do not hug or do not play closely together.  I would never recommend that sleepovers be curtailed.  I do maintain that brushes and combs should not be shared within families or between friends and it’s probably not the best idea to share hats or scarves, but most importantly, preventive methods are key and really should be adhered to.

So this holiday season – I was provided with a good reminder and my sister and her family a valuable lesson about head lice (TALK ABOUT JOY!)  . . . (and hopefully next year’s holiday season will be a little less eventful) . . .

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