By: Leah Hollenberger
Creepy crawlies time is back and I don’t mean Halloween! Recently, local school boards and town health officers have had to discuss how to prevent the spread of bed bugs and lice.
The good news is that bed bugs and lice do not spread disease. They are annoying, but not dangerous. They’re also equal opportunists – found all over the world and in a variety of settings, from the chicest hotel to a neighbor’s home near you.
Lice is the easier bug to get rid of. Treatments for head lice are generally safe and effective when used correctly and available over the counter at any pharmacy. Most of these products are pesticides that can be absorbed through the skin, so use with care and only as directed.
As an alternative, some people recommend smothering head lice by covering the hair and scalp with mayonnaise or olive oil and leaving it on for eight hours. This should be followed by a vinegar rinse, which is thought to help weaken the “glue” that attaches lice eggs, called nits, to the hair next to the scalp. The Centers for Disease Control does not have clear scientific evidence that proves that the use of olive oil and/or vinegar is effective in killing lice.
With any treatment, you will need to carefully comb out hair with a fine tooth comb to capture lice and nits. You’ll need to check daily for two weeks or so to make sure the lice are gone. It is not uncommon to have to re-treat 5-10 days after the first treatment.
Head lice can’t live long if they fall off a person and can’t feed, which means you can focus on cleaning items used primarily by the infested person. Machine wash and dry any clothes, sheets, towels, hats, scarves, etc. that the person with head lice wore or used during the 2 days before the lice was discovered. Wash in a washing machine using the hot water (130 degrees) cycle and dry on the high heat seating. Clothing and other non-washable items (such as stuffed animals) can be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag and stored for 2 weeks. This will suffocate the lice. The CDC recommends vacuuming the floor and furniture, especially areas used by the infested person. You should also soak combs and brushes in hot water for 5-10 minutes.
Lice is spread most often by direct head-to-head contact. To limit spreading, don’t share hats, scarves, brushes or combs. You don’t need to avoid someone with lice.
These little buggers are a bit tougher and they travel easily. They are very small and flat, so they can fit into really small spaces – something as thin as the edge of a credit card. They hide during the day, but you can look for signs of them near where people sleep. Although they can travel, they tend to stay within 8 feet of where people sleep. Check seams of mattresses, box springs, luggage, overnight bags, and the folds of bedding and clothes, etc. Bedframes, headboards, dresser tables, and clutter also provide hiding spaces. Anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping areas where other people have slept has a higher risk of spreading or being bitten by bed bugs. Some travelers store their luggage in closets away from their sleeping area to reduce the chance of an infestation once they return home.
Bedbugs also leave signs that they are around. In addition to bug bites, they can leave a musty smell, very small reddish brown or dark brown spots or streaks from their poop, and/or shed skin in their hiding areas.
So what can you do if you have bed bugs? The only sure-fire remedy is to use a professional exterminator with experience in using heat to kill bed bugs. Experts say the infested area needs to be heated to at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit for three hours. This can be expensive, so other options include trying to remove the bugs and keeping them away. That means careful and repeated vacuuming of the seams of mattresses and box springs, along and under carpet edges and baseboards and in other crevices, cracks and around clutter near the sleeping area. Be sure to empty the vacuum bag outside of your home after each session. Washing clothing and bedding on the hot water setting and drying on the high heat setting for at least 10-15 minutes is effective. You should continue to monitor for bed bugs daily, and keep vacuuming regularly.
The Vermont Department of Health’s website has good clear directions on how to deal with a bedbug infestation. Their site also provides a good link to “Lice Lessons” on the National Association of School Nurses website. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has information on both lice and bedbugs.
Anyone can have lice or bed bugs, through no fault of their own. There is nothing to fear as they don’t carry disease; usually, they cause itchiness and sleepless nights. Getting rid of them takes time and effort, so be kind to someone dealing with these creepy crawlies.
Leah Hollenberger is the Vice President of Marketing, Development, and Community Relations for Copley Hospital. A former award-winning TV and Radio producer, she is the mother of two and lives in Morrisville. Her free time is spent volunteering, cooking, playing outdoors, and producing textile arts. Leah writes about community events, preventive care, and assorted ideas to help one make healthy choices.