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A Nasty Tale About Lice

I was born and raised in Alberta, where the summers are hot and dry and the winters are cold and dry. I don’t mean dry as in no precipitation but dry as in the air can make your skin flake like a 10,000 year old mummy’s. And the water is mineralized enough to leave scales on taps and pipes the envy of any dragon.

Calgary gets rain (thundershowers), hail (in buckets) and snow that lasts a winter. Or at lease these phenomena were common in my childhood. Because of this you never saw an animal with fleas unless it was in a place particularly dirty or the animal was particularly mangy. And head lice was not something we even had to worry about in school. However head lice and body lice have been around since humans started wearing clothing (if not longer).

Now I don’t know if head lice care about cold or not, or if people washed more frequently or just didn’t get near to each other but we certainly never had warnings or even one kid with them when I was in school. However, infestations have been reported in most countries and a huge increase has occurred in the last 20 years. I don’t know if this is climate change or that these little vermin are just finding humans more appetizing.

I didn’t encounter head lice when I moved to Vancouver, but I did encounter fleas because of the warmer and moister climate. Your cat or dog doesn’t have be mangy to get them. Keeping a place clean certainly helps. I did encounter lice in the US though.

I used to go down and visit friends who had two kids. I’d sleep on an air mattress on their living room floor and play with the kids as well. I never even knew about lice really at that point. But one day a few weeks later I was at my desk and reading a paper, and scratching at my neck. Now due to my sensitivity to some foods, getting a rash around my neck was not unusual. What was unusual was that as I scratched a little born ovoid bug fell onto the page. At that point I frantically rubbed my hand through my shoulder-length hair and watched in horror as more bugs fell onto the page.

My skin crawled and I panicked. I ran to the bathroom and brushed and brushed and combed my hair knocking beige vermin into the sink. I looked over my scalp but really couldn’t seem much there but I knew. I think with a bit of internet searching and calling a few friends I figured out pretty quickly what I had and went to the pharmacy for louse shampoo, which came with a lovely nit comb. Nits are the egg casings of a louse and stick to the air as little white dots. They’re small but tenacious, and so are their parents, the lice.

The full process involved shampooing my hair and, because I didn’t want to shave my head, sitting outside (thankfully it was summer) on my patio and having a friend comb every nit from my hair. Two-three hours later, I was nit free but still had to shampoo a few more times over the week and check to make sure the buggers were gone.

Besides the bodily care there was the washing of all clothes and bed clothes I may have come in contact with during that time. As well, I had to bag pillows or items that couldn’t be washed and dried under a high heat. I had to vacuum everything thoroughly and leave those bagged items for up to a month to make sure everything was dead.

The worst part was that all of this could have been prevented if the friends, who knew their children had lice, had just let me know. Instead of being head in the sand like they had been, I took the onus of contacting everyone I’d been near to tell them about the lice and what to look for. It was like contacting people to say I had an STD. I felt ashamed and mortified yet I was responsible.

I never stayed with those people ever again but had the misfortune a few months later of being at a group camping event where they were at. I went home and found a few lice but caught them right away, and again informed everyone I knew. I think part of the reason these vermin infestations have been spreading is that people don’t take responsibility. School age kids are most susceptible because of their close contact and therefore schools have a huge problem. We’ll never eradicate them as long as there are people but we could get them under control with a bit of knowledge and responsibility. And I hope I never have to deal with any parasite on my body again, besides slapping a few mosquitoes.

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Salmon Fishery: Another Ecosystem on its Last Gasp

In the 80s the Atlantic cod fishery faced a moratorium because the cod stocks had all but disappeared. Some fishermen say that they were telling the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that the fish were getting smaller and fewer. They say the department didn’t listen. Others say that the fishermen were as complicit as the fisheries department because they continued to fish the stocks to near extinction. It’s obvious, if nothing else, that there were several guilty parties and that the fish disappeared.

BC is yet again facing the same thing with the salmon stocks. A predicted high number of returning salmon failed to appear this year. The Fisheries estimated that there would be 11,000,000 but less than 2,000,000 have appeared. They are being accused of having bad science yet again and really, that’s part of it. The other part is setting perhaps too high of quotas and not factoring in possible problems.

Where have the salmon gone? No one is sure but we’re looking at ocean temperatures being alarmingly high from a degree to five degrees warmer and as the scientists have said, this isn’t a percentage of a degree and it is significant. A two-degree difference in ocean temperatures can devastate not only sealife but affect everything from rainfall, snow-melt, tornadoes, hurricanes and lightning storms. Anyone notice the increase in ferocity of these things this year?

Only the most adamant head-in-the-sand attitude would try to say this is cyclical. Yes weather changes are normal to a degree but not to this level of extreme weather and not with the ocean warming this much. And no matter what someone argues, the fact is that the ocean has warmed and it’s devastating sealife. Perhaps there’s been overfishing in the US but I haven’t heard of that fight yet this year though it’s going to come up. And then there are the salmon farms and the danger of sea lice. We don’t know if the lice decimated the populations because they’re not here to see.

And the Native fisheries still have a right to fish when sport and other fishermen don’t. The fish for some sustenance though in this world almost all bands have members with jobs, near shopping centers where other food supplies are available. They fish for ritualistic means. They fish as part of their jobs, like other fishermen.

What’s at stake? The livelihoods of fishermen. The rituals of First Nations people. The salmon. If the salmon go, there will be no more fishermen. There will be no more rituals or traditions involving salmon. That is the bottom line and when less than two million salmon have returned and the future of their viability is uncertain, no one, and I mean no one should be fishing them.

We will run into again, the “appease me today, and we’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow” sentiment. Yes, people will be angry, people will lose their jobs but is it better to keep a job for a few months and never have one again nor taste a salmon ever again? And of course if salmon disappear, it could affect other aspects of the ecosystem and the feeding cycle of other animals in the ocean and on land, such as bears.

There is a shortsightedness that is not only affecting our fisheries but still prevalent in other issues of the environment. It is as if a slumbering behemoth was prodded for thirty years and finally awoke and roared. The rampage or movement is about to begin but it will be at such a slow pace. The more I hear about our environment going crazy, the more I realize our time is running out faster than we can implement change, because that change is so small and incremental.

I fill with despair that in no other time in history, nor in such a short time, have humans destroyed so many things. We lost touch with our place on the land and have upset a balance that took millennia to set in place. It is ever changing and ever balancing and if anyone wonders at the fact that there are more scary flu epidemics (SARS, H1N1, etc.) and other diseases (HIV, Ebola) that are hitting larger populations, it’s not just because we travel more and the virii and bacteria travel farther. It’s also Mother Nature trying to reassert a measure of balance and she  will take drastic measures to do so.

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