It’s overwhelming and disgusting to find a bug in your kid’s hair, but chances are pretty good that most parents will have this experience.(Some estimates say that 1-3% of grade schoolers are infested.)
It happened to me last year. I’d been expecting it, since we get a nurses note at least once a month that someone at school has lice. Since I hate the idea of putting pesticides on my kids’ heads, I decided to head over to the Minneosota Lice Lady to see what she could do. Thanks to her, the lice were removed, the rest of us were checked and declared lice-free, and I discovered that Gonner Asser is an expert on the tiny creatures. Since then, I’ve taken two microbiology classes of nursing students on field trips to visit her studio and learn about the tiny parasites.
We looked at nits (lice eggs) on hair (they look and feel like tiny brownish knots,) observed lice in all life stages under the cool microscope she has set up for kids and learned how to treat and avoid head lice. Here are my Cliff Notes, but she shared many other amazing facts and studies! Check out myths, facts and lice study references on her website.
1. Lice move from hair to hair, head to head and hygiene has little to do with it. In fact, they may like clean hair better! To avoid getting lice, long hair should be pulled back into braids or a bun so lice can’t use their claws to crawl from ponytail to ponytail while kids are head-to-head reading, talking or playing Temple Run.
2.Lice are a social disease. If your child has lice, chances are, they may have passed it to a friend, so don’t be shy about calling other parents and the school nurse. You’ll be doing everyone a favor. Likewise, if your kid’s friend has lice, check your own child carefully! They don’t always itch. A lice comb is the best way to check for the brownish nits and bugs, which can be seen by wiping the comb on a white paper towel.
3. Lice do not move from the environment to your head! If someone in your family has lice, you need to have that person treated and everyone else checked, but don’t bother bagging stuffed animals, pillows, etc. Lice cannot live away from the human head for long. They essentially dry up and die. Nits (lice eggs) have to be incubated 1/4 away from the scalp to hatch. Even a fever can kill them. Check out this study from a school where 450 students were infested and they didn’t find even one louse on classroom floors.
4.Pesticide head treatments often won’t kill lice. Many lice have developed resistance to these pesticides which often only kill 20-50% of lice and many of them contain chemicals which are considered hazardous. The best way to remove lice is with a lice comb and conditioner. Nits can take almost 3 weeks to hatch, so you have to keep combing and checking for a month to make sure all lice have been removed and no more are present to lay eggs. Or, go to a professional like the MN Lice Lady and make sure they’re willing to recheck and guarantee their treatment.
5. Finally, good news. Although they’re gross, lice don’t carry disease. Head lice only infest hair on the head, and they’re generally not even found on hair in hairbrushes. Kids tend to get them since they spend more time head-to-head, but braids and buns, and even sprays or shampoos with plant products (like tea-tree oil) can discourage them from climbing over.
Tomorrow, we’re heading out to see Tornado Alley at the Science Museum of Minnesota‘s omintheater. We’ll get to check out the TIV (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) and meet film maker and storm chaser Sean Casey while we’re there. You can meet him too from 12-2 on Sat. Sept.29 and Sun. Sept.30. I’m pretty sure we’ll be blown away.
My microbiology class just had a great field trip to the Minnesota Lice Lady. We looked at nits and lice through a microscope, learned about the parasite’s life cycle and heard that braids or a ponytail can keep your friends’ bugs from crawling over to your head. I’ll be posting soon about these little monsters!
Cricket magazine has been around for a long time, but I just discovered a kids’ science imprint called Muse magazine, for kids from 9-14, which I’ll be getting for every kid on my list this year! I have no affiliation with the magazine, but learned about it as the result of a science online meeting I’ll attend later this year. I’m co-moderating a session with Elizabeth Preston, who is the magazine’s editor and writes a great adult science blog called Inkfish.