Creepy Crawlers: How To Avoid Head Lice This Fall Season
SPANISH FORK, Utah — With school in session for more than a month now, kids have had plenty of time to share germs and other crawly bugs. Studies show head lice is a common risk this time of year.
When the Munn kids get home from school, they pull out their homework and reading assignments.
On the day we visited, 9-year-old Kaitlyn Munn read a Halloween children’s book with her brother, Liam Munn. The book reminds the family of a real nightmare they lived several years ago.
“It’s just so scary,” their mother, Laura Munn, remembers. “I don’t ever want to have to go through that anymore. Never again.”
It’s a creepy, crawly nightmare.
“You’ll feel itchy just knowing that it’s in your house,” she said.
That’s right: head lice. Laura said her youngest daughter got a lice infection this time of year, about five years ago. She thinks it happened while they were shopping for Halloween costumes.
“You want to try on the hat, you want to put on the masks and things like that,” she explained.
Kaitlyn started complaining about her head itching, so one day Laura checked and, “sure enough, there is a little head lice hanging out behind her ears,” she said.
Laura was shocked and horrified. “Because we kept our hair really clean and everything,” she said.
She started to worry about everything. “Where did they get it, and how many people have it? How do I get rid of it?” she wondered. “You worry about everything that they’ve touched, everything they’ve gotten into. What could possibly have head lice on it now?”
Intermountain Healthcare’s Dr. Jennifer Mijer, a pediatrician and the Southridge Clinic in Riverton, said lice don’t discriminate. “Lice infections can happen to anyone; it doesn’t mean that you have dirty hair, (or) clean hair.”
Mijer said sometimes the symptoms won’t manifest for a couple of weeks.
“Generally, the first signs are kind of a reaction to the saliva,” she said. “Kids, more commonly than adults, will get kind of itchy scalps. You can see little red bumps on the scalps, and sometimes you can actually see the nits — and sometimes that’s the only sign — which look like little white things in the hair.”
Mijer said lice can’t fly or jump and don’t carry other diseases, but they can spread through brushes, hats or head-to-head contact.
She said prescription shampoo is the best treatment, but nit combs in addition to shampoo are also effective. Mijer said permethrin is an effective first choice.
She warns against natural remedies like mayonnaise and oil, which she said won’t suffocate lice — contrary to what some may think.
“If you read about things like gasoline or heat on the scalp, those can be more dangerous than helpful,” she advised.
Mijer encourages people to wash and dry everything on a high heat, of at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit, or bag up items for two weeks to kill the bugs. Laura Munn did just that.
She washed everything she could. “Pillows and clothing, anything they’ve worn; jackets, everything,” she said.
Laura’s oldest daughter, Danelle, said, “I remember the sad, tragic event of having a bag of my stuffed animals.” They also treated the entire family to make sure no one else had it.
Finally, after about a month, and multiple attempts to kill the lice, the infection was gone.
Today the Munns don’t take chances. “We’re a lot more careful,” Laura said. She doesn’t let her kids try on things at the store or sleep on someone else’s pillow.
For the last five years, Laura has also been consistent in adding tea tree oil to their shampoo as a preventative measure. While Mijer said there isn’t any scientific research proving it effective, Laura said it’s helped keep their family lice free since their first and only infection.
She is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure it never happens again in her home. “It was pretty awful,” she said. “The worst month ever.”
Mijer encourages paranoid parents who think they’ve spotted lice to double-check before freaking out. She said dead hair cells and dandruff sometimes look like nits and one of the biggest differences is that lice will stick to a hair strand rather than falling off.