Tag Archives: louse

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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Head Lice and Shame

I grew up in Alberta. There, the winters are cold enough that the only animal that had fleas would be mangy and often diseased. And head lice were unheard of. Perhaps the cold worked at keeping the numbers down there too.

Then I moved to BC, where there was a plethora of insects and other buggy vermin: spiders that flew in the wind on their spinnerets, spiders the size of your palms, slugs as long as a foot-long sub, moths, aphids, fleas on every animal if the summer was humid, mosquitoes year-round even if they didn’t bite, horseflies, black widows, bugs, everywhere!

The fleas were a horrid revelation and took some getting used to. I was particularly sensitive to the bites and after spending a summer of scratching my legs to bloody, I saw my doctor for something to stop the itching. That, and I moved out from my messy roommates and into a place on my own. Oh yes, keeping things clean can make a difference in the virulence of an infestation. Vacuuming regularly kept the eggs at bay and then it was a matter of making sure the cat was flea-combed or giving it some anti-flea liquid. Fleas are one of a host of vampiric bugs, commonly known as parasites, which include bedbugs, mosquitoes and lice.

Lice have been close buddies of humans for three million years. Which means we may never be able to eradicate them without eradicating humans. Why am I talking about lice? Because I had the utmost misfortune of encountering them. I was once visiting friends who had kids. I slept on the floor, on a mat, in a sleeping bag and played with the kids while there.

A week later, I had a bit of a rash on my neck but I have sometimes got the same thing from mild allergies so it didn’t seem unusual. But one day I was reading a paper, scratching at my head when this bug fell on to the paper. Frantically I began shaking my hair and ruffling it, watching in horror as more vermin fell to the page. Little beige, eye shaped vermin. There is nothing more disgusting than finding live critters crawling on your body.

I don’t remember what I did next but I found out pretty damn quickly that they were lice. Next was going to the pharmacy and wincing as I said I had lice and what should I do. They sold me some tarry shampoo, which I ran home and used. I’ve read you can coat your hair in olive oil, which is supposed to work. Any other oil in a person’s hair and it takes forever to remove. Supposedly olive oil is the only oil that can be shampooed out. Reading the little pamphlet, it said to use the comb afterwards, the special louse comb to remove the nits, which are the eggs of the little vampires. I did but having fairly long hair, there was no way I could be sure that I got them all.

I didn’t relish shaving my head, which is often what happens when kids get lice. So I shamefully called up one of my best friends and asked her if she would be so good as to comb through my hair. I sat outside, luckily in summer and she took a couple of hours to comb through all my hair. I used the shampoo several more times. But I also had to wash any bedclothes or clothes lying about. I had to bag every cushion or anything else of fabric for weeks. I had to vacuum feverishly.

Luckily I got rid of them. But I also did the responsible thing, although I felt ashamed for getting lice and felt dirty. I contacted everyone I had been around and told them what they had to do. I was also extremely pissed off at the friends whose place I was at because they never bothered to warn me, knowing their kids’ school had lice and that their kids had had them several times. That they could be so disrespecting of their friends and so uncaring of their children truly stunned me.

Then about a month later I picked up the lice again because I was around the same people and I had to inform everyone a second time. These people said nothing. Were they too ashamed to admit it? I don’t know but I had to say where I had got them so friends could check themselves. But I can say that I never ever visited or stayed at those people’s houses ever again. 

As far as I’m concerned they should have felt shame for not informing their friends. It’s the same as picking up any contagious disease or illness (like STDs) and not letting the people you came into contact with that they could be infected. That being said, we all manage to pass colds on from one person to the next but by the time you realize you have a cold, you’ve already infected others and with colds all you can do is bide your time. Infestations of vermin are another story and they can get out of hand if not controlled.

Having been fed on by mosquitoes, fleas and lice, I can say I would miss these bugs if they disappeared off the face of the earth. I’ve paid my dues and given enough blood.

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