I have a phobia. Head lice. Even the thought of them makes me start to itch, to want to scratch my head furiously. I cannot bear the thought of them invading my hair, or that of my child. Until having Pip, I had all but forgotten about the existence of the pesky head louse. Who gives ‘Pediculus humanus capitis’ a second thought in their twenties and early thirties? No one. They’re left behind with the memories of childhood; with faded recollections of the ‘Nit Nurse’ popping into the classroom once or twice a year and rummaging roughly through everyone’s hair, ruining well braided plaits and swinging bunches. Unfortunately, like a bad dream I thought had gone forever, they’ve re-entered my life; and I’m finding that just the thought of the little blighters gets me quite agitated.
Last week, I received an email from Pip’s nursery. It communicated that there had been an outbreak of head lice and requested that parents check their children’s hair and treat as necessary. On his appointed nursery day, as I dropped Pip off in the morning, I noticed a sign on the door saying there had been 6 cases of head lice in his ‘learning’ room. Practically breaking out in hives at the thought of it, I nearly turned tail and took my golden haired, lice free angel straight home. But instead, I gave myself a firm talking to, reminded myself that this was my one day a week to myself, (I was still going to have to pay for it whether he attended or not) and then subsequently left him, in the den of the louse, praying that he would not be infected. By the time I picked him up late afternoon, the count on the door had increased to 7 cases. It seemed the nursery was on the verge of a nits epidemic.
In the course of the day, my email had been flooded with further messages from the nursery about head lice. Subject matter included a video link to ‘Lice Assassins’; the mega lice busters featured on Channel 4’s embarrassing bodies, who use a hoover, tweezers and all sorts of other paraphernalia to get rid of the most stubborn of critters. There was another email suggesting an ‘alternative remedy’ using olive oil and vinegar for parents who did not want to use over the counter pharmaceutical treatments on their child, plus, a few other suggestions forwarded from parents all jumping on the ‘Defeat the Nits’ bandwagon.
I sought out the frazzled looking duty manager, to try and understand why this sudden outbreak was upon us and joked slightly about the ever increasing head count of children being infected. He was clearly stressed, and started to download. The conversation that followed was quite enlightening.
He told me that nurseries are not allowed to check children’s hair for lice, and neither are they allowed to exclude them if they are infected. He confided in me, that against the rules, he had however, checked some children’s hair that day, to try and stem the problem, and had asked one set of parents to collect their infected child. But what really amazed me, as the conversation continued was the revelation that some parents he had contacted had been aware that their child had head lice when they dropped them off at the nursery that morning. He also went on to tell me that another parent he had contacted was refusing to treat the problem as they were worried about the effect of using chemicals on their child’s hair, but had not, as yet found a suitable ‘alternative’ therapy.
Both of these admissions made my blood boil. I accept that every parent has the right to choose how to treat the problem, but, treat it you must (by whatever method), and continuing to send an untreated child *that you knowingly are aware has head lice* into a nursery environment is, to my mind, inconsiderate and selfish. I also appreciate that parents who go to work may struggle with last minute issues regarding alternative childcare arrangements if faced with a surprise head lice infestation but, I do not consider this an adequate justification for sending a child to nursery when you know that they have head lice. It’s not fair to other children, their parents, staff at the nursery, and it’s not fair to the child that’s infected either.
As a parent of a small child, I accept that head lice is a fact of life. It’s incredibly common and there’s a reasonable chance that at some point at nursery or school age, they may come into contact with it. If Pip gets it, I won’t like it, for him or for me, (trying to get a nit comb through my own hair will be a nightmare) but, the point I’m making is - as soon as I am aware of it, I will treat it. Immediately.
I check Pip’s hair regularly, and especially carefully on the days he has been to nursery. To some, I may seem a tad obsessive but so far, he’s been louse and egg free, and I hope to keep it that way. After this recent spate, I’ve upped my defensive strategies. We are now in possession of a Nitty Gritty metal comb. After each bath and hair wash, I apply some leave in conditioner to his hair and run this through afterwards checking for eggs or lice. I have been told that if you do this every three days, the likelihood is that you will catch any eggs before they hatch. It’s not a cast iron guarantee, but if wet combing may help prevent an infestation in my son’s hair, then I’m happy to do it.
And just in case we do get unlucky, I’ve got a bottle of treatment lotion in the cupboard, ready and waiting. So if on any occasion, I do catch a critter; hatched or unhatched, I can deal with it straight away. And certainly, I won’t knowingly be sending my son out into the world to pass it on.