Monday, July 22, 2013

Time for a post about something gross

Recently, we've been spending a horrific amount of time in a war of attrition with the remarkable, persistent and apparently unkillable human parasite, the intrepid pediculosis capitis.

That would be HEAD LICE, to all you non Latin scholars out there.

While we have had lice before, we've always been able to get rid of them with the standard two-step treatment - poison the crap out of them, conditioner and comb, and repeat 7-10 days later. I think we've had three go-arounds in the 6 years since my eldest started kindergarten, which isn't terrible with three girls, I suppose. And before 3 months ago, we hadn't had any problems for close to 2 years.

About 10 weeks ago, though, my 10 year old was scratching her head fit to bust one night and I decided I should check her hair. She and the 8 year old often have itchy scalps from dandruff; it's not usually a cause for concern.

This time, as soon as I parted her hair to look at the scalp, a monster-sized louse scrambled for cover under her thick, almost bum-length, hair.

After many exclamations of ewwwww and gross (from both her and I), I applied the poison, washed it out, conditioned and combed. There were about 6-8 dead bugs, a handful of eggs, plus (with hindsight being 20/20, this should've been a red flag) a half-dozen bugs in various sizes that were still moving. Although I quickly killed them with my fingernail, I admit I felt a qualm or two. Why hadn't they died with the poison?

We got the dismal answer to *that* when doing the repeat treatment 9 days later, by which I time I had started to itch as well. On treating both daughter and I, I dislodged multiple bugs, babies and eggs from her head; just two bugs from mine, but an ominous cluster of eggs. And they were mostly still twitching. Slow-moving, stunned - yes. Dead - NO NO NO.

I knew then that this wouldn't be the end, and so it has proved. In the succeeding 9 weeks, I've:

- done the poison treatment every 7 days at a minimum, alternating two different preparations with different actives (Banlice and KP24). I stopped getting any bugs from my hair 4 weeks ago, and have just stopped getting eggs in the past week (although I assume most of those I've been combing out have been already dead). I am STILL getting bugs from daughter's hair, EVERY TIME.
- conditioner and comb, conditioner and comb, every 3 days on average
- used the hair dryer on both our hair, although probably not as consistently as I should (really must do it daily, and we haven't been)
- used the electronic lice comb, which zaps big bugs but misses babies and ignores eggs
- cut daughter's hair, twice - it's now a shoulder length bob, at her request. It looks awesome and it is much, much easier to treat and maintain ... or at least it *will* be, if we ever manage to finally get rid of the damn things.

This morning, having last done a treatment on Monday of last week, I got a call from school to come get her as they had done a lice check and found bugs. I stomped off in high dudgeon to get her, brought her home, did a full treatment, and took her back to school 2 hours later. I have to assume that either my method is incomplete (despite the fact that I'm getting really good at it now!) or that these lice are resistant to the treatment (and / or are zombies. Either one works).

What is driving me nuts is three things:

1. Fear: When I start my fulltime job next week, I just *will not* be able to drop everything once a fortnight to come get her for lice. I am terrified of the disruption to both her and I.

2. Frustration: My strong suspicion is that we HAVE got clear at least a couple of times, but that she's getting reinfested at school. Her entire cohort of friends (all 5 of them) were sent home for lice today, and I know for a fact that one of the parents involved is exhausted with multiple treatment cycles and financially strapped, and has declared her intention (to other parents, not the school) of just using a hairdryer, rather than investing in insecticides again.

3. Distress: Daughter is pretty good about the poisoning step, but HAAAAAATES having her hair combed through and hates the hairdryer being used on it. We have tears, yelling, name-calling (her to me!) every single time. It is wearing me down emotionally, not to mention physically - every treatment takes 1-2 hrs minimum, and it's all awful.

So the things we haven't tried yet are going to be deployed, in escalating order, to try and finally get in top of it.

Firstly, I'm paying to have a lice removal service come and do a heat-based treatment on her hair. It's not cheap, but on the other hand, if it works, I wouldn't care if it cost a week's salary.

Secondly, we're going to start using a dilute tea tree spray on all the girls' hair as a preventative. My research suggests that tea tree works well as a preventer but less well as a front-line treatment, but anything that makes it less likely they will come back gets a big tick from me.

Thirdly, if both the above fail to prevent reinfestation, I am going to get off to the doctor and ask for a script for oral Ivermectin, which works very much like the newer brands of flea treatments that we put on our dogs and cats (Frontline et al). It is an insect neuro disruptor, harmless to mammals, and highly effective. It's a last-ditch effort as it can make some patients nauseated, which is terrible, and why I'm saving it for last. But if we have to go there, we will go there. It's just creating so much stress for the whole family now.

(Just out of interest, the two younger girls have missed being infested at all - I check them every 5 days, but not one sign is found, and 8yo indeed was checked at school today and all clear. It's only me and 10 year old who are victims :-(

What do you do to treat head lice? What's worked / hasn't worked? Do you think these buggers  are the first wave of the Insect Zombie Apocalyse, or is that just me?


  1. Have just come back from the vet where vet informed me that poor dog probably suffering from fleas (I thought it was an allergy). "But I've kept up her anti flea regime", says I. "Yeah," says the vet, "fleas are getting resistant to the topical treatments". My expression: !!!!. So now on new oral flea treatment. Sigh. Also I have to flea bomb my house. Ugh.

    1. It's disgusting, innit? Damn these parasites and their fiendish ability to adapt :-(

      Funnily enough, my Dad (who, as you know, is a vet) has had some success with relcalcitrant flea populations by treating with lice poison, while one of my friends swears by Frontline for treating lice! maybe we should swap bottles and give it a go :-P

      NB to all overly literal readers - this is a joke. I am not actually going to use dog flea treatments on my kids. Probably.

  2. RE using the lfea treatments...I'd be tempted!!
    We had such an issue with lice with Phee. So much so that when she was in grade one, she got a short hair cut, and some of the kids thought she was a boy! It continued for many years. I concluded it was because she's an affectionate kid and hugs people. I continually reminded her that the lice travel by walking from head to head, so to be aware and not to get too close to others. It eventually stopped, and thankfully my advice has worn off (she's still a hugger!) but it's a horrid thing to deal with.
    There was plenty on the market when she was young. Maybe try a different brand of product?
    As for that parent who's giving up doing the right thing... I'd be tempted to tell her what for, or to tell the school that this is what you'd heard, so they can do a generic note to all parents about following the right procedure, and how being diligent is the only way you can get through this together.
    By the way - GOOD LUCK!

  3. PS I'm so ithcy right now....