In The Race between Lice and Humans, Guess Who Is Getting Ahead
Head lice, also known as “heirloom parasites”, have been around for most of recorded history.
There was a time when they passed around a disease called typhus, or typhoid fever. This was mostly during periods of war (like the siege of Granada in 1489) and deprivation, as was the case just before the Irish Potato Famine.
Today, when typhus occurs in the United States, it is primarily confined to southern regions, notably Texas and California, and is nowhere near as deadly as it once was. Called “murine” typhus, this variety may cause a high and extended fever, as well as nausea, vomiting a headache and even a backache, but – thanks to modern medicine, few sufferers fail to recover completely.
Still, lice continue to trouble us. Or at least our children, finding ever newer and more subtle ways to evade the remedies we have devised to kill them. Most often found among preschool and elementary school children (3-11 years old), these pesky little bugs – about the size of a sesame seed when mature – have reportedly developed a tolerance to over-the-counter (OTC) drugstore remedies containing pyrethroids (our newest and most natural weapon against bugs).
In fact, according to a recent study, at least 25 states – half of the U.S. – are hosting lice that laugh at pyrethroids. Moreover, the levels may be even higher, says Dr. Kyong Sup Yoon of Southern Illinois University (Edwardsville), in a paper presented to the 250th gathering of the American Chemical Society.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, the spread of lice happens from wearing another child’s clothing, using infested combs, brushes or towels, or lying on a bed, sofa, pillow, stuffed animal or even carpet where someone with lice has previously lain.
Lice are not an indication of lack of cleanliness. Lice are very democratic. They infect rich and poor, famous and infamous, young and old. They prefer crowded conditions, which allow them to spread faster, but they are not more common among minority populations, and only show up more often among girls than boys because girls tend to have longer hair, which gives lice more places to cling and hide.
While the argument rages among scientists – whether or not lice are immune to OTC remedies (and if the immunity is genetic or “community acquired”), parents will want to be proactive. Check your child’s head for what looks like dandruff, but moves. If you are not certain, buy a magnifying glass. At CVS pharmacy, you can buy both a magnifying glass and a lice comb as a combo package. Head lice are generally white, but may be grey or even brownish under certain lighting conditions.
For pyrethroid-resistant lice, there remain some simple, if messy, home remedies. The idea is to smother the lice. You can do this by first washing your child’s hair, to remove any eggs or lice that are not firmly attached to a hair shaft. This also removes any residue that might be mistaken for lice – you don’t want to use any medication if it isn’t needed.
Next, using olive oil or coconut oil – or even very heavy conditioner – coat your child’s hair and scalp. A friend of mine used to take it one step further, covering her daughter’s hair with a shower cap or plastic bag. However, if your youngster is less than five, please provide constant supervision so that he/she does not remove the cap or accidentally suffocate on the bag.
After a half-hour (or even an hour if your offspring will tolerate it), comb through hair with a lice comb. You can also use a very fine-tooth comb, but it will take longer and not work as well. Shampoo and rinse, and then treat your child’s hair and scalp with any one of several highly aromatic essential oils, like lavender oil. (We know this works because we use lavender oil in our waterless dog grooming spray). You can also use one of these:
- Anise seed oil
- Cinnamon leaf oil
- Clove oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Neem oil
- Nutmeg oil
- Peppermint oil
- Red thyme oil
- Tea tree oil
Lastly, go through your child’s room, and your home, with our essential cleaning kit. Wash all your (hopefully organic cotton) sheets, blankets and bedding in hot water. Add a few drops of essential oil to the rinse cycle.
Don’t forget to vacuum your carpets, as this is the last resort of lice (pun intended). If your infestation is particularly upsetting, you might even want to steam-clean your carpets, either by renting an industrial-duty machine or by hiring a carpet-cleaning firm. Also, do not forget your hard-surface floors, especially in corners and beneath cupboards. Children spend an amazing amount of their time in the kitchen, at floor level.
If all else fails, consult your pediatrician or family doctor for stronger medicine, but whatever you do, don’t panic if your child brings home a notice. You are only one of about nine million parents reading the same news every year, according to the CDC!
This post was posted in Blog and Green Library, Childcare, Health and Safety, Pest Control and was tagged with CDC, coconut oil, essential oils, lavender oil, lice, lice comb, louse, murine typhus, olive oil, pyrethroids, typhoid fever, typhus