Monday, July 09, 2001

Bug free

Today, my kids start their respective summer programs and I start figuring out how to get them to two different places 20 minutes apart at the same time. It's going to be a long six weeks.

I also get all sorts of new things to worry about, like: Will my son's camp counselors be able to handle him? Will he be safe in the pool? Will he come home with the same towel and bathing suit he left with? Will my daughter be safe in her drop-in-at-the-park program? Will her friends be there? Will they want to play with her? Will I forget to pick her up?

But one thing I'm not going to worry about this year are head lice. And why is that? Have I found some new miracle chemical shield? Have head lice been wiped out in my area? Are my kids' heads hermetically sealed? No. I'm not going to worry because Harvard entomologist Richard J. Pollack, Ph.D., says I shouldn't. He says all the folderol about excluding kids and treating kids and bagging up the entire house for bugs is ridiculous. Head lice are harmless. They don't spread that easily, and if they do, big whoop.

Harvard entomologist Richard J. Pollack, Ph.D., is my hero.

We've only had one lice infestation here, but it was a doozy. My daughter had live lice crawling around on her head (Richard J. Pollack says unless you see live lice, do nothing -- and be sure they're lice, not spiders or ants. These were lice, they were live, and they had an attitude.) Because I was a good citizen and had not yet read about Richard J. Pollack, I called her very expensive camp and told them she had lice, and was of course told not to bring her back until she was nit-free. I washed her twice with the insecticide shampoo, I combed, I combed, I combed, I covered her head with mayonnaise, I combed, I covered her head with olive oil, I combed, I sprayed the house, I combed, I bagged the bedding, I combed, I combed, I combed. The camp nurse found nits and commented that Mom wasn't trying hard enough. I combed, and I imagined the camp nurse crawling with lice. Ha!

It was so hard to get rid of those buggers and their every trace that I have been in a complete panic about lice ever since. I've had my family shampooing with tea tree oil long after any last bugs had breathed their last. I left the bedding in bags for over a year. I examine my kids' hair with every little scratch. And I dread the thought of them being sent home from school for as long as it takes me to do this again.

But now, no worries. Richard J. Pollack -- and indeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics with him -- say heck no, the kids shouldn't go. They shouldn't be kicked out of school or camp, they shouldn't be stigmatized in front of their peers, and the peers parents should not be notified of an outbreak. Because, you know, it's no biggie. Some cultures even value head lice as a sign that you've got friends.

Now, if only we can sell that to the camp and school nurses of this nation, I'll really be able to breathe easy.

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