Parents with grade-school children know how easily germs can be passed from one child to another, which is why many have one shared nightmare that can be easily, and unknowingly, passed between kids – head lice.
The very mention of head lice can make a person’s scalp itch. An adult louse is no bigger than a sesame seed and its eggs, or nits, are often confused with dandruff or a drop of hairspray, so it is no wonder why some cases of head lice go undetected until there is a full-on infestation. And lice can be spread in a number of simple ways – from trying on a hat at the store to resting your head against a couch.
There are tons of products to help, with varying degrees of effectiveness and safety. Pharmacies sell over-the-counter combs and medications, and doctors can prescribe even more, but there is no guarantee that these products can kill lice or even make a dent in an infestation. Recent studies have even shown some head lice are resistant to common prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
“It’s all controversial. The feeling now is to use a natural treatment,” says Pinewood Intermediate School nurse Theresa Varsoke. “The purpose is to kill the louse.”
“When you see the nits, that’s when you know.”
- Pinewood Intermediate School nurse Theresa Varsoke
Varsoke said the most important thing when treating lice is to wash and treat pillows, blankets and clothing – anything that someone with lice has rested their head on. Sticking the things outside in the winter for 24 hours, where the cold can kill the critters, or killing them with the heat of the dryer both work, said Varsoke.
The uncertainty of the safety of pesticide delousing products is why, in 2012, a local company was formed to make lice-removal less traumatic for parents and kids. Miracles on Lice, which originally started in Mechanicville and is now located in Ballston Lake, is a full-service lice-removal business, and the only one in the Capital District certified in the Shepard Method, a strand-by-strand, hand-done, nit-removal process.
“We use nontoxic products only,” says Helaina Slader, founder and owner of Miracles on Lice.
Slader says over-the-counter and prescription medications provide uneven results, adding “it’s the manual labor that removes” lice.
She and her employees are licensed cosmetologists. Slader says she used to work in a children’s hair salon that could not treat kids with lice, but after seeing overwhelmed parents and kids with infestations, she decided to open her out-of-home business.
The Miracles on Lice “lice angels,” or employees, methodically go through a client’s hair and pick out any nits and lice after the hair has been treated with a special conditioner. Sometimes treatments can take up to three hours, depending on the thickness and length of the hair, but Slader says this method is most effective and allows kids to return to school quickly – even as soon as the next day.
“We give them a letter (stating the child is lice-free) to go back to school,” Slader says.
Policy changes for New York public schools have also made it easier for children to rejoin their classmates follwing an infestation.
“We used to tell them they could not come to school at all” until they were 100 percent nit/louse free, says Varsoke.
Schools now ask that parents treat their kids and make sure an infestation is under control while still sending kids to school, which ensures they will not be absent for weeks.
Although policy has changed, Varsoke says, schools still keep track of kids who have had lice, “to make sure there is no re-infestation,” and still do routine head checks in elementary school classrooms.
“Elementary school (kids); they don’t know enough,” says Varsoke.
She says head lice are often spread person-to-person, and kids most often get it from sleepovers.
While the thought of lice can be cringe-inducing, both Varsoke and Slader speak out against the negative stigma surrounding head lice. Both say that getting an infestation is no one’s fault. They also stress the importance of keeping on top of head lice before it becomes a serious problem.
“When you see the nits, that’s when you know,” Varsoke says.
Telling people you have come into contact with lice is a large part of Slader’s business since the critters are so easily spread. She stands by her “tell a friend, be a friend” business motto and asks that of everyone her business treats.