Hard to believe that back-to-school is already upon us. With this time of year come many new beginnings, new routines, new friends – big or small. And as it turns out, some of the smallest new “friends” greeting many of our kids this year are lice. That’s right, if you aren’t itching now, you probably will be soon. Like it or not, back-to-school time is peak lice season. And unfortunately, there are two camps of people. Those whose children have been spared and secretly think lice happens to the dirty and lazy, and those who have lived through the ordeal and probably secretly hope it never happens again.  Unfortunately, I learned last summer that lice is, in fact, an equal opportunity offender and the worst approach to “tackling” it, is denial.

So, I turned to none other than the lice expert in Montgomery County to give us some advice on lice prevention and address some of the myths out there about getting rid of lice.  This is the woman who saved me while I was in a dark phase  of my life exactly one year ago when I realized that my child wasn’t scratching her head because she was hot and needed to pull it back (denial is never a good thing), my child was scratching her head because it was infested with lice. And despite what I might have thought before, lice does happen to people who are clean and anal and attentive. I introduce you to Karen Franco of Advice on Lice in Kensington, MD. Without a doubt, my money spent at Advice on Lice was some of the best money I ever spent.  Karen and her husband now run a full-time business checking heads for lice, educating parents on what to do, and generally being life-savers in your time of need when lice hits the house. Karen got started in the lice business 15 years ago when her daughter was young, she used to volunteer to do head checks, and was appalled with the stigma attached with lice and how unwilling people were to acknowledge it and do something about it. Her experience evolved into an in-demand local small business. Karen and her husband not only check families for lice, they educate you on what to do and give you the steps you need to take to make sure you eradicate it completely from your house. I won’t lie, it’s definitely work intensive but I survived…so read on for some great advice.

Karen, is there a peak time of year for lice?

Yes. Back-to-school is definitely a peak time of year for lice. Because of summer camps and people traveling, there are cross-over populations and people are sharing lice. All summer long, we are distracted – which is partly where some of the denial comes in that you mentioned – we think it must be allergies or dandruff which is absurd but people don’t want their summer disrupted.

How do we know it’s not dandruff?

Dandruff will blow off easily. It flakes. There is a mis-conception about lice – people think they are greyish white but that is misleading – they are transparent, a milky color and the nit is glued onto the hair, you have to scrape it off, whereas dandruff flakes off.

I feel like sleep away camp is a big problem with lice and going back-to -school. Do you find this about sleep-away camp?

Yes. Kids go to sleep-away camp and often get lice. And many of the camps actually screen them when they arrive and if they find lice, send them home, which leaves upset children. Some parents bring them to see us for a head check as soon as they pick the kids up from sleep away camp. The bottom line is there is no magic potion to make lice go away – there is no smell that repels them.

So what can we do to prevent lice?

A must-have for every family

Get a fine tooth comb and comb their hair on a regular basis. Make it part of your weekly routine and that is your best prevention.  Prevention is getting the lice out before it takes root and sets up a family. I recommend the Lice Meister comb and brushing through the child’s hair twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. You can order the comb online. I have one client who has made combing through her child’s hair part of their family routine by starting and ending the week with the comb throughs. Every Monday and every Friday, she sits down her child, uses some conditioner, and combs through from the scalp to the end of the hair. The public schools here believe that lice is a nuisance and because it is not life threatening, you don’t have to keep your child home from school, but that doesn’t help anyone. The bottom line is, it’s prudent to designate a day to look through everyone’s hair every week. It is never appropriate to say your child can’t miss school and you will just let it go.

So, you find out your child has lice – so then what? What do you do?

First let me say that the homeopathic treatments are not based on science, they are not effective. You need chemicals to kill the lice. I recommend Rid and I recommend that my clients leave it on their heads for longer than 10 minutes, which is what it says on the box. I advise clients to leave it on for a minimum of 30 minutes to kill all the live bugs. The method that we lay out on our web site has been validated time and time again. The problem is that the live bugs are the contagious ones, they crawl, they know they want to be in the human head. There are so many mis-informed theories out there about how to kill lice. One really common one is putting olive oil on your head and sleeping all night with it – that does not kill the lice. The lice breathe through pores and they can close their pores for up to 18 hours, so sleeping with olive oil doesn’t kill the lice. And then – you have to comb through the hair. The comb that comes with the Rid is a joke. They do not work. You have to use a fine tooth comb, like the Lice Meister. Parents of boys often shave their son’s head and that will get rid of the lice.

What about if you are pregnant or have very young children – what product should you use that will still kill the lice but doesn’t have chemicals?

There is a new prescription medication that has no pesticides called Ulesfia. It’s not meant for anyone under 6 months. Because the product is new, we recommend using less product than prescribed the first time and then using it again 10 days later. Many pharmacies don’t carry it but the pharmacy in our building does carry it.

Are we all itchy yet?? But seriously, having lived through this, I was cursing all the stuffed animals we owned as I put them in the dryer and bagged them for a few weeks. How long do they live when they are not on a head? And what about car seats?

A healthy adult female or male can live for about 1.5 days, depending on where it is. The nits will die within an hour or so. If your child has been in the car seat and it’s summer time, the bug will be dead in the hot car within 2-3 hours. The bottom line is the head is where they live, they are not infecting your car, carpets, your home. They can’t do their important activities anywhere beyond the head, so what I urge people to do is spend their time focusing on combing the hair with a proper fine-tooth comb.

So Karen, as we embark on the school year, can you tell us how much your services cost and give us some parting words of wisdom?

Yes, we charge $85/hour or $20 for a screening. All the products we recommend are available in our store. We can go to people’s homes but children are usually much better behaved when not at home and in our offices and we are just better equipped with the seating and lighting in our office.  Also, I think it is important to teach children about lice in terms of “life sciences” to help eliminate the stigma attached with lice and really teach prevention and education. As for parting words of wisdom, I like to say “When in doubt, comb it out.”

Those are excellent final words from Karen. So moms, when in doubt, comb it out……and call Karen. And remember, denial is never a good thing when it comes to lice. 

When not living in fear of yet another lice episode in her house, Monica Sakala blogs at Wired Momma. “Like” the Wired Momma facebook page for an easy way to keep up-to-date with the shenanigans on her blog.