The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on February 19, 2002 · Page 47
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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 47

West Palm Beach, Florida
Issue Date:
Tuesday, February 19, 2002
Page 47
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THE PALM BEACH POST TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2002 5D Head lice prefer healthy kids, clean hair Q: Do head lice cause or spread disease? A: No. Head lice rarely (if ever) harm a host, and they are not known to transmit infectious agents. But people can contract secondary infections from infestation Darticularlv through I scalp sores caused by scratching. There are many nonspecinc signs of infestation, says Lee expert Terri Meinking of the University of Miami. She's an assistant professor in the department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery, and has been studying the insects for more than 20 years. "You could have a low-grade fever," she says. "You can have enlarged lymph nodes. You can have sores on your head. You can have fatigue. You just don't feel like you.' The kids will be extra-tired," Meinking continues, "lice are nocturnal; they're more active at night The kids will not have a good night's sleep. So the kid's not quite there or alert (at school)." This dull, sleepy feeling is where the term "feeling lousy" comes from. "Nitpicking," which refers to egg removal, is another lice-spawned term. Q: What do lice look like? A: Unmagnified, bee resemble slender sesame seeds. Up close, they're monstrous, black-eyed, crab-clawed cretins (with little hairs on their legs). They usually have a dot on their backs. Head lice are usually gray, but their color can vary, depending on the color of then-host's hair. Nits are easier to see. Eggs are glued (by louse secretions) onto hair shafts. They look like grains of white or tan sand. Dandruff flakes are often mistaken for nits. If the suspected nit removes from the hair easily and flakes on the fingernail, it's probably dandruff. Nits are very difficult to remove. Q: How do you get head lice? A: Lice are spread only by human contact. They can't jump from head to head. They can't fly. You can't get them from pets, or by rolling in grass or dirt. Since children spend more time in close proximity to one another, they're more likely to become infested. Lice crawl from one person's hair to another. Kids share hats, brushes and earphones, all possible ways to transmit lice. "Children are children they're going to play with their hats and their combs as they do," explains Lashandra Span, coordinator of health services for Palm Beach County schools. "Maybe they comb each other's hair and share barrettes or something. At sleepovers, they may sleep on the same pillow." Girls are more likely to get lice than boys because they have longer hair. Q: Are lice a sign of bad parenting, poverty or poor housekeeping? A: Not at all. Meinking explains: "Body lice have given all lice a bad name. When I get a call from a parent, they're like, 'But I wash her hair every day! I have a clean house!' It has nothing to do with cleanliness." Body lice prefer living in filth, and have evolved to survive even when their host's blood lacks nutrients because the host is malnourished. But head lice need a "healthy blood meal," Meinking says. That means head lice prefer healthy kids with clean hair (it's easier for lice to move around). Fran Marseille, known as a "Lice Angel," is a Los Angeles-based educator who travels the country, teaching people about head lice. "It knows no boundaries racial or financial," Marseille says. "I've been the nitpicker of a few celebrities and their families. Oh yeah. I can't drop names that's part of my contract with them as a Lice Angel but I can say these are prominent people who can easily afford to throw away all their towels and bedding." Q: Are lice a bigger problem in Florida than up North? A: Somewhat. Lice are more easily transmitted in warm climates, Meinking says, because ))TSSra ') i ; t I i i 5 I ? i ! i i i ! f 9 S i. . ! f i Stories by Chris Hutchinslllustration by Pat Crowley For more information In addition to sources quoted in this story, we retrieved information about head lice from the following Web sites. If you want to know more about lice, check out: www.kidshealth.orgparent infectionscommonlice. html www.safe2use.compests liceheadlice.htm headlice.html the bugs lay their eggs farther from the scalp. In colder climates, lice will lay their eggs about one-fourth of an inch away from the scalp so that body heat will provide an ideal incubation environment. But because we live in a subtropical climate, head lice will lay eggs much farther down the hair shaft. "When (kids are) playing out in the sun, the scalp gets too hot," Meinking says. "When my daughter's had it, the eggs will be 6 to 8 inches down on her hair," Meinking says. Q: How bad can an infestation get if left untreated? A: As Marseille says, "there was a case of head lice where they had gotten down into the eyebrows and eyelashes because they were so heavily infested. That was a real rare case." More commonly, a population of head lice will reach a steady state (rf untreated), where the birth and death rates are equal and there are more than 200 lice on the head at one time. About 5,000 eggs will be laid each month, and the hair will become gray with drifts of empty egg shells. Trivia to scratch your head over An Egyptian text from 16 B.C. encourages folks to use this concoction for lice elimination: "One part of date flour and one part water shall be cooked to a volume of (450 ml). Sip up to a mouthful while warm, and spray it out on the parts of the body infected by the vermin." Dried lice have been found on the scalps and hairs of Egyptian mummies, and in prehistoric native burial grounds in North America. Nit combs made of carved ivory dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries B.C. have also been discovered. In Northern Siberia, it was once customary for young women to show their affections for suitors by throwing their lice at them. It was a sign of intimacy. In the 1500s, Aztecs showed respect for king Montezuma by making offerings of lice. Spanish explorers were shocked when the poor would present the kings with bags of lice, meticulously gathered from their bodies. The Spaniards thought the subjects should bring gold. Many Central and South American Indian tribes have been known to groom for lice, and eat what they find. The University of Miami's Terri Meinking has watched the Kuna Indians of Panama continue this tradition today. How to detect and eliminate head lice Head lice are generally an unreported health problem. Despite in-school education programs, many people are less than forthcoming about infestations. Most experts estimate there are anywhere from 6 million to 12 million cases of ' head lice in America each year. "That (number) was generated years ago; it's based on sales of over-the-counter and prescription treatments," explains the University of Miami's Terri Meinking. "That's a pretty wide range. We still don't know how many cases there are, what the incidence and prevalence in the United States is." Treatment is tedious particularly in South Florida, where the insects may be more likely to survive over-the-counter remedies. Years of product misuse (in which the lice receive a diluted dose of an anti-lice treatment) and the influx of resilient head lice from Central and South America mean local lice are tougher-than-average to kill, Meinking says. ! "They always seem to be one step ahead of us," she says. "Well hit 'em with different pesticides, and they're able to genetically manipulate to become resistant to it They adapt faster than we can figure out how to get rid of them." ( Some tips for spotting and treating I a case of head lice. ) Look for lice and nits: Lice shun bright ? light and will hide if the hair is tussled. c u: f urt'. t. 1 ocaiLiiuig lut mis uny wiiujMi, uvtxr shaped eggs is easier. They're usually attached to the hair at an angle, anywhere from a quarter-inch to several inches down the hair shaft. "I tell parents that when they're washing hair or combing, look in the typical areas," says Lice Angel Fran Marseille. "Look in the crown of the head; around where the bangs are; back behind the ears; right at the nape of the neck; and as close to the scalp as you can get." Be thorough: "It's hard for parents, especially if it's the first time a child has ever If ,. T .,U.,.! C ,.,1 1: 5 i 11.1 r t1 ri 1 - . jnaies neaim services, ior raim ceacn county fSchools. "They just wouldn't imagine that one could be hiding behind that one piece of hair that they didn't look at We encourage parents to check every Friday, so they can treat their children over the weekend. By the time they get back to school on Monday, it's a moot point." Other signs: The most common symptom of infestation is persistent itching, particularly around the ears, on the back of the neck and the crown. Sometimes, itching won't start until a month after initial contact, though people who've had (and treated) head lice before usually begin scratching 24 to 48 hours after first contact. Other signs of infestation include fatigue, irritability, swollen lymph nodes and low fever. These are usually side-effects from late-night feeding (a host will scratch in his sleep) and secondary infections caused by scratching. Don't get angry: If your child has lice, don't waste time blaming anyone. "I have seen parents yell at their own children because they had embarrassed them and made a 'bad name' for the family," Marseille says. "I've watched parents make verbal death threats to administrators it was the 'school's fault' that they had head lice. We have a lack of education about it" Get treatment Ask your school nurse to recommend some anti-lice products. The Palm Beach County Health Care District recommends using Step-2 and Clear for removing nits from the hair. Not interested in putting pesticides on your child's hair? Try Not Nice To lice and Hair Clean 1-2-3, which have enzyme- or plant oil-based ingredients. There are over-the-counter pesticide products, including Rid, Nix, A-200, Pronto and R&C. But the district says, lice are becoming more resistant to these products. Some experts say those treatments (which contain insecticides called pyrethrin or permethrin) may not work, because local lice may have built up a resistance to the chemicals. Recent studies by Harvard and Meinking show lice are becoming more resistant to pyrethrin and permethrin. Prescription medications such as Ovide may be more effective, Meinking says. "It 'smells. But with its high alcoholic 'content it shrinks the eggs," she says. "You can just see them, under the microscope: They collapse." Avoid home remedies such as smearing petroleum jelly on the head. "As soon as you wash the stuff off, the lice start moving around again," Meinking says. "They play dead." Follow directions: If you're using a shampoo product be sure to follow package directions. Many treatments call for the host's hair to be clean and dry many parents wash their child's hair, and then apply the treatment to the damp hair. This dilutes the active chemicals, making lice more likely to survive and more likely to become resistant to future treatments of the same product "It's the same theory with antibiotics," explains Kim Pennington of St. Lucie County schools. "People use them incorrectly, and they use them in small doses. Bacteria build up a resistance to the antibiotic. Same goes for head lice people often use the shampoos incorrectly." Be a nitpicker It's tedious work, but all nits and lice must be removed from the hair to prevent further infestation. Use a lice comb (such as the IiceMeister or Magi-comb) to get the critters out of the hair. "The tried-and-true method is to specifically remove them all," Span says. "That's really only the way to do it There are some shampoos that help, but literally removing them from the hair strands is the way they're completely gotten rid of." Treat your home, too: Clean all combs and brushes in your home, and disinfect them. Wash clothes you and the host were wearing during treatment Vacuum beds, mattresses and bedrooms, as well as couches, car seats and anything else that may have been in contact with the host's head. Remove all stuffed animals and put them in an airtight bag in the garage. This will suffocate and starve any lice on the toys. Retrieve them 7 to 10 days later. Respect your school's 'no nit' policy: Palm Beach, Martin and St Lucie counties have "no nit" policies, meaning that if your child is sent home with lice, he or she must be treated before returnirtg to school. Hair trigger As any comb-clutching parent will tell you, lice are, resilient creatures, and perfectly suited to their environment. lice change colors to blend in with hair. Their feet have crab-like claws, evolu-tionarily perfected to hold on to hair shafts. They can even hold their breath. "When a typical (anti-lice) product is put on the head and shampooed, the minute water hits the hair, the louse will shut down (its) breathing mechanisms and hold its breath and still hold on for dear life," says Fran Marseille, who travels the country hosting education seminars about head lice. And they're smarter than you think. The University of Miami's Terri Meinking has conducted lice-related research in Panama and Florida. She would remove lice from an infested person's hair and place them on her arm. "They'd start walking up my arm, toward my head," Meinking says. "And I'm thinking, 'How do they know where to go?' I'd hold my arm above my head thinking their direction was affected by gravity or something but they'd still head toward my head. "So (when they were near my upper arm,) I took a wig and put it around my wrist. They went back down the arm toward the wig.1 Somehow, they just know or have really good eyes." ; They can even be finicky eaK ers. During her research in Pan-; ama, Meinking noted that the; people in one Indian tribe she was studying all had expositive blood types. Meinking has O-negative blood. The lice weren't infesting her hair. "I was curious why they: wouldn't feed on me," she says.; So she conducted another experiment She took a louse from a native and starved it Then she let it feed on a native, and then oa her arm, wondering if blood type affected louse feeding habits. And she wondered whether there would be Rh incompatibili--ties, as seen in human blood, transfusions. "I put them under a microscope," after the feeding, she; says. "You could see the gut-rupture. The two Rh factors were incompatible. They must know; that I was O-negative, and that's; why they didn't want to feed on; me." Her conclusion? "A head, louse knows before it ever feeds on you your blood type, your Rh factor. . . . We don't" know how they know all these things. They just do." A bug's life Here's a breakdown of a typical louse's life cycle, and how its human host is affected: Week One: A male and female louse elope to a new host (your head, perhaps?) and have dinner. They will continue to eat every three to six hours until they die. Head lice feed by pressing the front of their heads against the skin of the scalp. A series of curved teeth around their mouths then fasten on to pierce the skin, but the host likely won't feel a thing. Head lice saliva contains an anticoagulant and an ingredient that causes human blood vessels to enlarge. The blood flows right to their tummies. Week Two: The female louse has been laying eggs for days now. She's expecting a big family: This week, shell lay about 40 nits. The eggs are cemented to the hair shafts by a secretion from the female. They are tan-colored, and oval- or tear-shaped. It's up to the male to inseminate them. Meanwhile, the original cou ple is stm silently sucKing away, . and the host is still clueless. Week Three: It's a bouncing ; baby brood! The nymphs are climbing out of their now-translucent eggshells, and mom. is laying more. The babies begin to feed on the host ? Week Four Momma and Daddy lice are dead; their life span ' was three to four weeks. But their legacy lives on: Plenty of the nymphs are still alive, and nave grown, in a lew days, they'll grow to maturity and be "'. able to mate. Meanwhile, the host is feel- 1 ing fatigued. Since head lice are nocturnal creatures, he's been 1 waking up and scratching his ' head. His body's becoming sen- - it's causing an allergic reaction. ' It's well past the time to seek treatment but he's just beginning to understand there's a UVJ Furniture. Employees. Tips for customers. With, I can find almost anything in the Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie Counties. I use it to find employees for my salon, things to do for my client's kids and more. I even found the sofa in my waiting area on! Ar. I IV. J Lucia M. j X-l ' Salon Owner V I f-0 ' '4, if t i f . ii X I,. 1 r, I ( m GoPBI .com

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