Not only am I the editor of our latest story on lice, which does a great job of outlining all of your possible treatment options, I'm also the proud mother of two little girls who've been infested. The first time, the call from the school nurse downright paralyzed me. Stunned, I told my coworkers, who were all sympathetic either because they'd been in my shoes themselves or because they hadn't and live in fear of the concept. Then I sort of wandered around the office aimlessly, quite frankly dreading going home. The second time, I found the buggers myself and was more aggravated than panicked. I called Sally Kelly, R.N., the amazing professional nitpicker and school nurse who helped me the first time, and simply resigned myself to several days of laundering and combing. She's so wonderful not only because she can do a combout like nobody's business (and for a much lower price than her competitors), but because she's filled with helpful tips on the things that aren't necessary when your kid has lice. Thanks to Sally, I've learned what you don't have to do.
1. You don't have to freak out. Of course you don't want bugs living in your kid's hair. But technically, from a health perspective, it's not worrisome. Lice don't spread disease. As Sally told me during our first call, "This is a nuisance. Nothing more." You lice vets out there know: Your first instinct is to wash or toss everything your child has ever come in contact with. But that's overkill. (The CDC backs this up--they point out that because lice can't live off the human head for more than two days max, "you do not need to spend a lot of time or money on housecleaning activities.") Speaking of...
2. There's no need to wash your child's bedding every day. Wash the pillowcase, but the comforter/blanket, sheets, and stuffed animals and other lovies can simply go in the dryer on high for 20 minutes. As for the bottom sheet, you don't even need to remove it from the bed. Sally's tip is to take a roller lint brush--the kind with tape--and run it thoroughly over the top half of your child's sheet. Her logic: The odds of a louse or nit falling off your child's hair and getting under the pillow and remaining alive is remote.
3. Don't bother with the dust ruffle. Lice won't be able to scoot all the way down past the mattress without dying, and your kid's head doesn't come in contact with it anyway.
4. You can skip vacuuming curtains and drapes. Unless your child was, say, playing Hide & Seek and wrapped herself in the curtain in the 48 hours prior to you discovering she had lice, there's just no way that the bugs made their way over to your windows. Spare yourself. But you should vacuum any cloth furniture that your child's head may have touched in the two days before you realized she had lice.
5. You don't need to throw out your brushes and combs. I drop my girls' brushes in a pot of boiling water immediately after I use them, turn off the water, and fish them out after a few minutes, by which time any bugs that were there are long dead.
6. You don't have to treat family members who don't have lice. Once everybody has been thoroughly checked and you've determined who is and who isn't infested, just make sure that there's no head-to-head contact between the two groups. (No snuggling, sadly; no hunching side-by-side over a video screen--or Rainbow Loom kit, and so on.)
7. Hard as it may be, you really don't have to make your kid feel like she's a leper. I distinctly remember one night when I'd finished the hours-long combout session with my girls and gotten them both bathed and brushed; I then went downstairs to wash their towels and boil their brushes. I came back up to my bedroom to find one daughter sprawled out on my bed. "OH MY GOD, GET OFF!" I shrieked, nearly causing her to have a heart attack. I immediately apologized, but the poor kid was wide-eyed, saying, "Mommy! You scared me!" Not to mention I made her feel as though she was repulsive. I quickly got a grip... and stripped my bed.
PS: If any of you in northern New Jersey wants to contact Sally, let me know.
Image: Baboon grooming another via Shutterstock