web analytics

I hate to pick nits. I mean, I really, REALLY hate to pick nits…


So, we had our own personal bonfire night on Saturday. That’s common — to let off your own fireworks the weekend after the 5th. On the general principle that they were going to join us for the experience whether they liked it or not, we invited the neighbors over.

Fireworks, by the way, are sold freely here, and in the most unlikely places. Our grocery store. Our garden center. A local bookshop. Quite fierce ones, too. Brits have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that there are places in the States you can legally buy a .357 magnum revolver, but not a roman candle.

We had wine and beer and hotdogs and popcorn and fire and explosives and a really good time. The neighbors brought over their granddaughter, who is about four and cute as the proverbial button. Kids are excitement multipliers.

So the next morning, we get this call, “ummm…thanks…had a nice time…probably should mention…turns out granddaughter has headlice…” AAAAAAIIIIIIIII!

I think we’re clear, but it raises the topic: does anybody know where the surge of headlice comes from? When I was a kid in the US, nobody but the lowest had headlice. It was a matter for some shame. Now it seems outbreaks are common across all social strata. Uncle B says it’s the same in the UK. He puts it down to central heating, but we had central heating everywhere when I was a kid.

Any public health types out there know what this is all about?


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 10, 2009, 8:37 pm

Wow! How could I not have found FoundShit.com before.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 10, 2009, 8:50 pm

Oh! Little girl (she of the headlice) was fascinated with the house. Uncle B showed her the ancient brick bread oven in the inglenook and explained how the farmer’s wife would fill it with hot coals from the fire to bake the bread.

“They didn’t have electricity here,” he explained.

She looked puzzled and said, “why didn’t they go next door, then?”

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: November 10, 2009, 8:58 pm


Comment from Pupster
Time: November 10, 2009, 9:05 pm

…probably should mention…turns out granddaughter has headlice…

Was your neighbor’s tone ‘mortified beyond belief’ or ‘icy with a hint of accusation’? Because they might think Weasels and Badgers are a bit hygienically challenged and the source of the problem.

Comment from Eirik
Time: November 10, 2009, 9:23 pm

In my daughters case, it ran rampant though her daycare a few years back. She, as well as other students, kept getting it over and over.My wife was at her wits end with it. Came about one day from shaving her head because even after (literally!) going though her hair with a fine tooth comb, we’d find nothing but the daycare would find one egg and send her home.

After accusing the parents of keeping a dirty home (my son never got it) they replaced the carpet in the daycare and the problem vanished.

Comment from Rustbucket
Time: November 10, 2009, 10:15 pm

My auburn-haired daughter, with long, thick, Shirley Temple-esque curls brought home a note in 1st grade about a lice problem at the school…and that the teacher had found some nits in my daughter’s scalp area. My wife, a teacher her ownself, nearly had a stroke. We looked, and sure enough: NITS!! Broke out the lice shampoo, the x-tra fine toothed aluminum comb (“guaranteed to get ’em all!!”) and proceeded to give our poor little girl the worst 2 hours of her young life. Think: THICK curls, thick hair, below shoulder-length gorgeous red hair. Thought we got ’em all, just to have her sent back home the next day to repeat the torture. That’s been 20 years, and our daughter STILL cringes at the mention of lice.

Comment from EZnSF
Time: November 10, 2009, 11:25 pm

Dammit, I hate when you post fun links. Not like I haven’t got better ways to spend an hour and a half.

Comment from weirdsister
Time: November 11, 2009, 1:19 am

Ick! Lice are so nasty! Fun fact: if you don’t happen to have an orangutan or a chimp around to pick them off of your scalp, tea tree oil will kill lice dead.

Great. Now my head is itching.

Comment from rick
Time: November 11, 2009, 3:29 am

Weirdsister, so’s mine. Head, itching…thanks I just stopped by to say hello and now I have internet lice.

Comment from thales
Time: November 11, 2009, 5:32 am

Welll, this is a lot like popular conceptions of infectious disease, isn’t it?

In the early 20th century USA, before the advent of antibiotics, any sort of public infection or infestation, especially among schoolchildren, was regarded with a great deal of horror and consternation, and met with a very concerted effort on the part of medical professionals, in order to prevent a serious outbreak of potentially lethal disease. Emphasis on containment and prevention. Anybody remember polio?

In more recent decades, after the introduction of effective vaccines, antibiotics, insecticides,miticides, antifungals,etc., the public has gradually become so complacent that they have failed to pay attention to ordinary hygiene practices. When I was in grammar school in 1950’s California, things like scabies or lice were practically unheard of. In the 1970’s, they began to be noticeably frequent occurrences, by the 1980’s persistent endemic infestations became common. You do recall, don’t you, that lice are vectors for a very nasty and lethal disease? Typhus?

Do you have a ready explanation why hair oil has gone out of style in the last 80 years?

Nowadays, it seems to be politically correct for parents to refuse immunizations for their children against serious infectious diseases, such as diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus.

Darwin awards?

Comment from Sockless Joe
Time: November 11, 2009, 9:27 am

Dunno about head lice, but I hear bedbugs are making a comeback, and not just among the lower class.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: November 11, 2009, 9:46 am

I’ve heard that too, Sockless Joe.

Seems we’ve taken one step forward and two steps back.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: November 11, 2009, 11:14 am

Weasel’s got nits! Weasel’s got nits! Na-na-ni-na-naa! Let’s all point at Weasel!

We had a mild louse scare in my prep school in the late 70’s. Stinky shampoo, nit combs and the fact that short hair was pretty much de rigueur for ten year-old boys in those days mitigated the problem before it became epidemic, but those little bastards are hardy and difficult to eradicate. As thales says, lice = typhus, and typhus is bad news. I just finished reading Antony Beevor’s account of Stalingrad and its aftermath. Something like 95% (!) of captured German troops didn’t survive imprisonment and a big factor in the death toll was their infestation with lice (to the point where some of them scooped handfuls of lice off their bodies and flung them at their guards in protest, which got them shot out of hand.)

I wonder if this isn’t part and parcel of the anti-scientific backlash against mass vaccination. If so, then the nexus of Leftist stupidity and Daily Mail hysteria that characterises so much of the public healthcare debate today is even more dangerous than I thought. It’s like we’re regressing into the days of superstition where diseases were caused by ‘ill humours’ or the evil eye. No-one these days is accustomed to the idea of infectious disease, so we ignore the safeguards.

Comment from JuliaM
Time: November 11, 2009, 12:58 pm

“When I was a kid in the US, nobody but the lowest had headlice. It was a matter for some shame.”

Oh, they are quick to emphasise now, whenever there’s yet another outbreak, how it’s not true that it’s only dirty home, nits only affect those with clean hair, etc, etc…

“Great. Now my head is itching.”

Yeah. Happens every time I read about nits! 🙂

Comment from scubafreak
Time: November 11, 2009, 2:15 pm

Sorry, I can’t help myself….. 😉

South Park – Lice Capades

Comment from poindexter
Time: November 11, 2009, 4:59 pm

“None but the lowest”, eh? You wound me. The last time our kids had head lice, we owned a 4500 sq.ft. house on five acres of land with lots of redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains. (I sigh to think what that house would fetch today.)

Head lice know no economic bounds, any more than colds or the flu. They lurk and burst into local outbreaks at the least opportune times. In our case, it happened just as our washer broke down. Oh, and we had seven (7) kids at home. My wife still has nightmares about trying to clean all bedding and clothing and treat all our kids.

Have fun! ..poindexter..

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 11, 2009, 5:04 pm

But that’s what I mean. It was unheard of in 1960-something, when I was a wee slip of a weasel. I remember the poorest kid in class got headlice, and it was a thing to whisper and point about. Now it’s quite common.

What changed?

Comment from Oldcat
Time: November 11, 2009, 5:24 pm

Subdivisions weren’t built out in the ‘natural’ forest so you didn’t get natural ticks, natural lice, natural typhus, and natural lyme disease.

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: November 11, 2009, 6:17 pm

Could be worse. Could be Owl Lice….


Comment from Giles
Time: November 11, 2009, 7:45 pm

When I was growing up in the UK in the 70s and 80s, we had a couple of outbreaks of headlice — nasty-smelling shampoos seemed to fix things pretty quickly. My mother never seemed that bothered — perhaps there was some kind of mutual support thing going on between parents — but when the same thing happened to my cousins in France, her brother freaked out completely and shaved all four of his sons pretty much bald. As far as he was concerned, it was something really disgusting (lice, not baldness).

Not sure what that says, though.

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: November 11, 2009, 7:50 pm

A bit off topic here. Stoatie, it’s too bad you didn’t have this dog with you on Guy Fawkes night….. 😉


Comment from mommer
Time: November 11, 2009, 11:53 pm

When my daughter was s student at Battle Abbey school there in Battle, she came home one time with lice. Supposedly it was a very posh place.

When my oldest was just 2 she get a case of lice from playing in a box of stuff what was crawling with lice, we learned later. She didn’t have much hair, but they were all crusted up on her eyelashes. I felt like the worst mother in the world.

Comment from Andrea Harris
Time: November 12, 2009, 1:45 pm

“Do you have a ready explanation why hair oil has gone out of style in the last 80 years?”

Because it’s really nasty? I can’t stand that slicked down oily hair look. Call me a child of the 70s (“The wet-head is dead!”). But we shouldn’t have to oil up our heads to prevent lice, we should just wash our heads and other things regularly. Even when I was a kid, lice was a serious fear. I never got them, but heard of kids who did. The idea of having to be subject to smelly medicinal shampoos and having my hair combed with a lice comb was one of my childhood fears. (I had long, very thick, very curly hair combined with a sensitive scalp — the way my mother combed my hair normally made me feel as if she was pouring acid on my head.) Also, lice was considered a mark of dirtiness. Now it’s considered damaging to people’s “self-esteem” to judge them on the basis of how clean they keep their homes and businesses. Of course a lice infestation isn’t anyone’s “fault,” but the idea was to make sure everyone held to a standard of hygiene instead of worrying how wonderful people felt about themselves. Those were different days.

Added: I also wonder how widespread use of wall-to-wall carpeting contributes. I grew up in a house with wood and tile floors and a couple of throw rugs. Wall-to-wall carpets are a bitch to clean, as anyone who has had their carpets steam cleaned can tell you.

Comment from naleta
Time: November 15, 2009, 2:44 pm

I never had lice when I was a child, but my children brought them home from school (late 80′) a couple of times. The second time around, after spraying the couch and cushions and carpet, treating 3 children and my husband, and myself, I suffered from overexposure to the pesticide and came home from work sick. My blood pressure shot sky-high, and I felt like total crap for several days.

Then in the summer of 2006, at the same time as my husband was suffering his first psoriasis flare-up, I had to battle bedbugs in our house. It took 2 months of weekly poisoning the mattress, boxsprings and carpets before the nasty little bugs finally died out. Now not only is my head itching but also my hands and legs from remembering that summer. *shudder*

Comment from physics geek
Time: November 16, 2009, 11:04 am

My kids had a bought with headlice this summer (and by extension, so did the parents) and I discovered some things:

1) Head lice like clean hair a lot more than dirty hair
2) Many parents, upon discovering head lice on their kids, purposely do NOT tell anyone who came in contact with their kids, thereby spreading the problem
3) No matter what you do to contain an outbreak, there will always be some parents who do dick about it, guaranteeing a new outbreak. Bastards

Anyway, I also found a few chemical free ways to combat the problem. Good thing, because the head pesticides just weren’t doing the trick. Anyhoo:

1) Coat the hair and scalp in olive oil. Leave on for at least two hours, with the head covered in plastic wrap or show cap to prevent jerri curl smears all over the house. The oil suffocates the little bastards. Fortunately, lice can’t seem to build up an immunity to this.

2) When washing the out the oil, rub some corn meal in first to absorb some of the oil. Then use Dawn dishwashing soap. Shampoo won’t cut it.

3) When combing out the nits and dead lice, dip the comb in vinegar. It loosens the glue which holds the eggs onto the hair.

4) Repeat #1-#3 every other day for two weeks. You will miss some nits unless you shave your scalp and each treatment kills the new lice, which cannot lay eggs until they are about two weeks old.

5) Every day, take the sheets, blankets, pillowcases, mattress covers and pillows and toss them into the dryer for 30 minutes or more. I also recommend washing the sheets using the hot water cycle; not necessary for the big stuff.

If you do all of the steps above, your family will be lice free soon. Also, put some tea tree oil in the shampoo and put some in a spray water bottle, which you will use to treat coats/sweaters/backpacks. This helps prevent reinfection because the lice don’t like the smell of tea tree oil. It doesn’t smell like a human.

Practical advice aside, I would say that the reasons for the upswing in lice outbreaks are numerous. Some of them:

1) When people get infected, they are too embarrassed to tell others, which pretty much guarantees the spread.
2) Lice have become resistant to the pesticides in the treatment, meaning that not all die. One louse survives and you’re guaranteed to have another outbreak
3) Some parents just don’t try to clean up their kids and houses when an outbreak occurs, which means that everyone they know is at risk.

Sorry for your troubles. The lice thing really pissed me off this summer. Some friends of ours fought a summer long battle to contain the outbreaks in their household. Vigilance and diligence are the keys. As an engineer, I can be pretty regimented and anal retentive when I want to be. My natural inclinations cleaned up our house in just a couple of weeks.

Comment from BillT
Time: November 23, 2009, 10:49 am

Weasel’s got nits! Weasel’s got nits!

Is that the same as girl cooties?

Comment from Review of AskNow
Time: June 30, 2014, 5:26 am

But don’t just speak about it; get out and make something
happen. Cups are the fit of adore and feelings, and of religion. Not wanting to
give up that practice, and this time my luck was about to change.

Write a comment

(as if I cared)

(yeah. I'm going to write)

(oooo! you have a website?)

Beware: more than one link in a comment is apt to earn you a trip to the spam filter, where you will remain -- cold, frightened and alone -- until I remember to clean the trap. But, hey, without Akismet, we'd be up to our asses in...well, ass porn, mostly.

<< carry me back to ol' virginny