by Brenda A / Buffalo, NY Clinic
“Your child has head lice.” Not the happiest news from the school nurse. But just because school’s out doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods — especially with camp season kicking in. And, anyone who’s gone through it can attest, the task of getting rid of lice (on your children’s heads and in your home) can be nothing short of monumental.
Head lice is actually more common than you think. The owners of Naughty Nits, a new local business whose sole focus is combating head lice, said that one in four kids in the U.S. get it. But it’s not just children who end up scratching their heads. “Lice crawl, they don’t fly or jump. While the 2-to 12-year-old crowd is most affected, older teens who babysit, along with parents and other adults, often are too. We also treat tons of grandparents” said Marnie Murray, mother of four and co-owner of Naughty Nits with business partner Lisa Saul.
And contrary to popular belief, lice isn’t linked to poor hygiene.
“The stigma of head lice isn’t the same in Europe,” noted Saul, who was a registered nurse is Sheffield, England before she relocated here 10 years ago. “But in the U.S., there is a lot of inaccurate information about the cause. Lice are often mistakenly associated with being dirty, but that is totally untrue.”
Murray and Saul began their nit-picking business in 2010 out of their homes, and recently opened a treatment center featuring four private rooms on Wehrle Drive in Williamsville.
“Because parents are concerned about the emotional toll the experience takes, we’ve worked hard to make the center a happy, kid-friendly place with DVDs, lemonades and treats,” said Murray. The combing process is relaxing and painless, she added.
“We also continue to make house calls, traveling all over the area from Lewiston to Batavia and everywhere in between,” said Murray, who has a master’s degree in biology from Yale.
When one child in the family brings home lice, it can be disruptive to the entire family. Because children can miss up to three weeks of school with head lice, there can be significant economic impact on their parents.
For Debbie Farley, a Clarence mother of four daughters, an infestation of lice eight years ago could not have come at a worse time. “My five-year-old brought it home, gave it to me; I was five months pregnant,” she recalled. “We were totally overwhelmed — my husband was picking through my hair and cutting out eggs. We used over-the-counter toxic treatments on the girls, followed by two hours per head to comb out the eggs.” Farley said she also did at least 20 loads of laundry that week and repeated the process every other night until her daughter was cleared by the school nurse to return to school.
Farley, who works as a dental hygienist, recently took a part-time job at Naughty Nits. “Lice can happen to anyone. We try to educate the client about the live cycle of lice and how to avoid re-infestations,” Farley said.
While home remedies ranging from mayonnaise to vinegar to over-the-counter treatments have been available for decades, the local lice ladies say those treatments don’t get down to the nitty gritty. “They might kill the live bugs, but the eggs remain alive. Females can lay seven to 10 eggs a day. We use an organic yeast enzyme product that unglues the nit from the hair shaft, and apply it piece by piece until the whole head is treated,” Saul explained. A short follow-up treatment a week later is recommended.
A Getzville mother (who wants to remain anonymous) of three said she was “freaked out and in a panic mode when one of her daughters was sent home from school because the nurse found lice in her hair. Ultimately all five members of the family were successfully treated in a home visit made by the lice ladies.
While their house calls have taken them from “15,000 square-foot mansions to shotgun shacks in outlying areas,” Saul and Murray say every lice outbreak has a common theme. “People are stressed out and embarrassed, often hysterical when they contact us. We tell them that it can happen to anyone, that we will pull up in an unmarked vehicle and that our service is confidential,” said Murray. “Our staff, made up of moms, is compassionate and understanding.”
Both women agree that the best part of their buggy business is the end result. “Our clients may be crying whey they call; when they leave they hug us and are so happy,” Saul said. “It’s an awesome, fulfilling feeling.”
Brenda Alesii is a freelance writer from Williamsville