Busy schedules, resistant bugs and, of course, the ‘ick’ factor.
B.C.’s lice busters say there are several reasons more parents are seeking professional help to deal with lice infestations — and as kids head back to school on Tuesday, they’re bracing for a busy month.
“By the end of September, we’ll likely see a few outbreaks,” said Rochelle Ivany, a Chilliwack nit picker who runs The Lice House with friend Ashley Wall. “Over the summer, kids have been off at camp, sleepovers and grandparents’ houses. When they come back to school, lice can come with them.”
Ivany entered the business when one of her kids came home with lice.
“I had no idea what to do,” she said. “Lice can be a taboo subject. No one wants to be the kid with it. Parents dread the letter coming home from school saying that there’s an outbreak in their kid’s class.”
After research and practice, Ivany set up shop in her home last year, offering people in the Fraser Valley an alternative to over-the-counter pesticides and hours of combing.
The key is to be “meticulous” while manually removing all lice and eggs with a special comb, she said.
Confidential sessions at The Lice House take between one-and-a-half to three hours depending on the severity of the infestation and the length of the client’s hair. Ivany charges $50 an hour — a lower rate than many of the services closer to Vancouver — and does comb-outs every three days until the client gets three clean comb-outs. She also provides treatment at cost for people who are referred to her through a social worker or community support worker.
“I get calls from a lot of panicked parents,” she said. “The message is that it’s OK, it’s going to be OK. We can help you.”
While it’s unclear if lice outbreaks are increasing — the B.C. Centre for Disease Control does not keep data on cases — more people are turning to professional lice removal services for help.
In Maple Ridge, Lice911 owner Barbara Pattison has been nit picking for 18 years.
“We’re the original,” she said. “When I started, there were four companies in North America.”
In the last decade, she’s expanded to provide mobile service in communities across Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island. In addition to Lice911, there are almost a dozen other companies offering treatment in B.C.
Pattison said lice seem to be more resistant to chemicals, which have become weaker in the last 10 years, while people may be too busy, or unwilling, to spend hours combing out bugs. In the last few years, she’s also seen a shift toward more teens and young adults arranging treatment for themselves, which she attributes to selfies and people putting their heads together to look at phones.
“All it takes is three seconds of hair-to-hair contact,” she said.
The lice expert advises parents to check their kids’ hair regularly for lice, looking for sticky black, brown or grey eggs half the size of a sesame seed attached to strands of hair. Some kids may have an itchy head or a rash at the nape of their neck.
“If you can catch it early, when there are 30 or 40 eggs, it’s much easier to deal with,” she said. “An average infestation is about 500 eggs.”