Everyday Orinda – April 2021

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Dare we discuss the other contagious plague in Orinda: head lice?

    With activities curtailed and distancing enforced, undoubtedly cases are way down. Once kiddos can huddle again, watch out. Like dust and telemarketers, lice will never be eradicated. The pungent aroma of tea tree oil will waft through school halls while a very un-scenic ‘Mt. Wash-more’ dominates the utility room at home.
    It’ll be mostly awesome resuming our former way of life. Ninety percent elation and 10% “Oh snap, I forgot about how much I hated (insert a variety of issues here: evening meetings when you’d rather sit on the couch and digest, parties where you’re expected to buy things, any gathering combining alcohol and sign-up sheets, hosting middle-school slumber parties, waiting for that friend who’s always late, parking garages, pinch-y shoes, critter head.)
    I know what my fellow bedraggled parents are thinking: “Please. It’s all we can handle just getting our littles back in the classroom.” And parents, I hear you, loud and clear. It’s just that with all the current restructuring, right now could be the perfect time to sneak in some change.
    My years in parents’ club leadership roles were truly rewarding, but I faced an impenetrable wall attempting to change protocol on lice prevention. After an exhausting battle with head lice as a newcomer to Orinda, implementing some proactive prevention was the main reason I agreed to serve as co-president of the Glorietta Parents’ Club back in 2010.
    As I shared my ambitious plans for lice reform with my friend Laurie Rothermel, I recall quite vividly the skeptical “good luck with that” expression on her face. Can that Berlin Wall now crumble? If we believe in masks and temperature checks, can we not also believe in routine scalp checks?
    Imagine if we dealt with COVID-19 the same way we dealt with lice here, basically not screening for it and discharging a child from school after numerous opportunities to spread it.
    Previously, parents were told we never had the budget for any lice screening, along with some mumbo-jumbo about the state of California having protections in place for a student privacy – especially aggravating. We’re not talking sexually transmitted infections here, folks. Additionally, we had scores of willing parent volunteers ready to assist with screenings.
    Parents need to know that in other states the sweet and sweaty little scalps of all elementary students are routinely checked for lice at least twice a year, usually after a return from any extended holiday. These peremptory checks work wonders offsetting infestations. Ask friends and relatives in other states.
    I was the poster parent for why the current reactive, rather than proactive, system does not work; the classic case of denial, ignoring all the school’s written exposure notices until my daughter’s head started itching. She couldn’t finish her piano piece without stopping to scratch her head, which doesn’t go over so gracefully at a recital, even if your kid is closer to Chopsticks than Chopin. I finally checked her head, everything appeared normal. “However,” I thought, “I’m in my forties now, and a lot more dependent on my reading glasses. Perhaps I’d better fetch those and examine her again.”
    “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” as my dear departed father often shouted at offensive drivers. Once magnified, my precious child’s head looked like an ant farm! I claim, to this day, my grandest expression of motherly love was revealed the moment I saw those bugs. Instinct urged me to shriek like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.
    Summoning every ounce of restraint, I somehow pretended a head full of live, crawling insects was no biggie. With quaking hands, I dialed East Bay Pediatrics. Oh, and it was super fun telling all my brand-new Mom friends that we just exposed them to head lice. Would they hear banjo music in their heads every time they approached our home? Once I learned how common lice are around here, at least that worry was assuaged.
    The Nuvo Method for head lice removal using Cetaphil cleanser was the only treatment that successfully worked for our family – http://www.nuvoforheadlice.com. But let me tell you, we battled those evil weevils for months. Local lice removal services like Love Bugs in Lafayette are very reliable but require appointments and can be quite costly, especially if the infestation spreads to siblings. Nit combing rates can run $90 per hour. Chemical treatments should be thoroughly researched as they contain highly toxic substances. As the lice get stronger, so do the chemicals.
    Treating lice is expensive, and chemical methods can be harmful to a child’s health. Infestation is a nuisance and quite time-consuming and stressful for everyone involved. In light of all we have learned about disease prevention in the wake of the Coronavirus, I hope our school district will re-evaluate its approach to a timeless problem that will soon resurface. Avoid all of this – Screening beats Screaming.

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