Mommy Talks

Cure for head lice and some interesting trivia

Doc Emer wrote about the relation of lice with the immune system and Batjay posted a rejoinder about an elevator experience in Singapore with a woman with head lice.

That made me recall the one and only time I had head lice. I was in the second grade, I think, it was an especially hot summer and all my cousins in the neighborhood suffered the same fate. My mother didn’t believe in anti-lice shampoos so she had my hair cut really, really short, and used suyod (a very fine toothed comb) to get rid of the lice, and the old-fashioned nit-picking technique — pulling and squishing the nits (eggs) one by one with the nails. It was a painful experience and a humiliating one.

Needless to say, when I became a mother, I took pains to make sure that my daughters never suffered the same fate. When Alex was in the second grade and she came home one day with a story about a classmate who had so many head lice they were crawling down her shoulders, Speedy went and talked to her teacher who assured him that the attention of the girl’s parents had been called. It seemed that it wasn’t any ordinary case of head lice but some more serious medical condition.

Fortunately for Alex, she didn’t get infected. However, both she and Sam got infected by a difference source — the house helper. I was in Baguio attending a workshop and Speedy and the girls were supposed to follow so we could spend a few days there after the workshop was over. Speedy called me up, said they had arrived in Baguio and told me in a pained voice about the lice. He said, they’d check in (they were checking in to a different hotel) and go directly to the drug store to get the anti-lice shampoo. What happened at the drug store is something he’ll never forget for the rest of his life.

In a very quiet tone, Speedy approached a clerk behind the counter.

“Miss, meron ba kayong shampoo para sa lice (Do you have anti-lice shampoo)?”

Ano ho ‘yun (What is that)?”

Speedy leaned closer and said in a whisper-like voice (no one really wants to broadcast lice infection, right?), “‘Yung gamot sa kuto (Medicine for lice).”

The clerk understood the Filipino word “kuto” perfectly and shouted at another clerk at the other end of the store, in a voice that could be heard and understood by everyone in the drug store, “Hoy, may gamot ka ba sa kuto (Hey, you have medicine for lice)?”

I wasn’t there when it happened; Speedy just gave me a blow-by-blow account later. I don’t know whether his face turned red (just as it did when I asked him to buy sanitary napkins during the early days of our marriage) and if he attempted to clamp his hand over clerk’s big mouth. By the time I met with them later that day, Speedy had already bought the shampoo (Kwell, the name was), the girls hair had been thoroughly washed and the lice were presumed to be all dead. But they used the shampoo for another two weeks, and so did I just to be on the safe side. When we got home, we made the house helper wash her hair with Kwell for two weeks too.

I don’t know if Kwell is still sold, there are concerns about the use of insecticide-based cures and some even claim that the newer strains of head lice are already immune to insecticides, but here are a few interesting things about cures for head lice.

  • From a 1914 nursing exam in England:

    Question: If when visiting school children in their own homes you found a bad case of pediculi capitis [head lice], how would you proceed to deal with it?

    Answer: Try and get the consent of the mother to have the child’s head shaved, rub in paraffin all over the head, warn the mother to keep the child away from the fire or any light, cover the child’s head up in a towel or a capulin, tell the mother to take it off in the morning and immediately burn it. Wash the child’s head well with soft soap and water, continue the treatment until the head is clean. Advise the mother to wash the other children’s heads with soft soap and water, and tooth-comb them daily with vinegar to be sure they are free from infection.

  • In a 2005 study using Nuvo lotion to kill head lice, there is the suggestion that mild skin cleansers — pesticide free — might be an effective, and safer, cure. See also the dry-on, suffocation-based, pediculicide lotion method.
  • An article suggests the use of mayonnaise, electric combs, tree tea oil and hair dryers with varying degrees of success.

And, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “Lice infestations (pediculosis and pthiriasis) are spread most commonly by close person-to-person contact. Dogs, cats, and other pets do not play a role in the transmission of human lice. Lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly…” Right, the little rascals that crawl on dogs and cats are altogether different breeds and I’ve already written about those fleas and ticks before.

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