Science and medicine have finally beaten head lice.
For most parents, the news that a child has head lice induces immediate panic. Lice are gross (actually, “disgusting” is the most common term we hear). To many, a lice outbreak means your house or your kids are dirty. You will have to notify the school. All the other parents will avoid you and your family. You’ll have to scour your home and spend hours each day treating and inspecting each family member’s scalp for weeks to come.
But wait. Before you take all your kids’ clothes and linens to the Laundromat and heave all the stuffed animals and backpacks into the garage, consider this.
There is a cure for head lice. And there is an answer to all the stress, shame and disgust associated with lice. There really is. But first let’s start with the root of the problem, it’s communication.
That’s right. Communication is the key to both lice prevention and treatment. We need to get lice out of the proverbial closet so that it can be addressed just like any other health concern.
Getting, treating and preventing head lice needs to come into the light of day. It is not something anyone should have to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Lice happens, just like most other health issues families face. Knowing the facts about what head lice really are, how they affect children’s and family’s health, how to remove them and prevent further cases can make the experience far less stressful and much less secretive.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 6-12 million cases of lice reported each year in the United States. The reason for the large range is that many cases go unreported due to parent embarrassment while others are erroneously reported by overzealous officials at camps, schools and day care centers. The point is that you are not alone. The irony is that with this many incidences of lice happening every year, when parents find lice on their children, they still have no idea what to do, think or say.
Now lets put this in perspective. Some 16 million children are treated for ear infections each year, putting the number of incidences roughly in the same ballpark as lice outbreaks. When your child gets an ear infection, do you know what to do? Most parents do. Others ask for advice from their friends, parents and other people in their supporter networks. Yet parents of children with lice go into hiding. The result is a lack of collective wisdom on the treatment of head lice, as well as a lot of bad information that wastes peoples’ time and money.
At Lice Clinics of Canada, we’ve seen mothers devastated by lice outbreaks—afraid to go out in public in fear they will be ostracized, and worried that their children will be bullied. Think we’re kidding? Watch Jennifer Garner1 explain how meeting George Clooney while the family was under going lice treatment may have gotten her booted from Clooney’s wedding. While this is a funny story, there are many others that are not funny at all.
It shouldn’t be this way. Head lice are a nuisance more than anything else, and every medical body from the Canadan Academy of Pediatrics2 to the National Association of School Nurses3 have called for calm reactions to lice by parents, physicians, nurses and school administrators. In fact, most medical bodies now don’t recommend that kids should miss school due to head lice. Properly treated, it’s not that big of a deal.
Sharing facts, sharing experiences, de-escalating the fear and shame surrounding head lice can save parents, children and teachers a great deal of time and energy—energy that can better be invested in finding the right solution to address incidences of head lice. The “yuck factor” that drives parents into seclusion also results in “trial and error” treatment that extends the time and cost required to deal with a health condition that is really not at all dangerous.
The facts are that head lice are not as yucky as people think. They do not cause health problems, they do not spread through the air, they do not transmit any dangerous germs or viruses, and they do not indicate poor hygiene. On this last matter, the opposite is true—lice are attracted to clean hair and scalps because it is easier for them to move across clean surfaces to lay eggs and feed.
There are many options and preventative measures that can address head lice outbreaks and accelerate safe removal. There is also a great deal of misinformation, false claims and unproven products available.
This blog will be dedicated to bringing the facts about head lice into broad daylight to help parents, school officials, health care providers, pharmacists and others to make the best treatment decisions with the appropriate level of urgency. We hope that readers like you will share your opinions and your experiences to help bring this important but highly treatable condition out of the closet of fear and confusion.