Saturday, November 20, 2010

Parents, don’t panic: Fair Oaks’ ‘Lice Lady’ can help

For parents with school-age children the word alone might hatch a wave of panic, or at least trigger an involuntary scratch of the head.
Head lice, insects that thrive on the scalp and feed off human blood, are a never-ending problem at schools.
The bugs are about an eighth of an inch long and aren’t difficult to comb out. But the nits – the eggs – look like tiny sesame seeds, as small as the period at the end of this sentence. Mother lice lay nits near the hairline and glue them to strands of hair, making removal a challenge familiar to many parents.
Enter Deanna Fox, the “Lice Lady.”
Charging $80 an hour she visits homes throughout the Sacramento region, picking out every last nit and louse, guaranteed.
Anonymity is also guaranteed – to Fox’s clientele, that’s as important as eradication.
Fox is a lice specialist for Nitpik, a company co-founded by Latika Alqarwani of Fair Oaks, a marriage counselor and mother of two. Alqarwani and her cousin started the company in 2007 to provide natural, alternative lice treatments.
Alqarwani said she was inspired by ancient, pesticide-free lice remedies from India.
“In India, we always have different home remedies, so we said, why don’t we put these remedies to the test and see if they work?” she said.
Over-the-counter products are “basically pesticides,” Alqarwani said.
Lice around the world also have developed resistance to pesticides. Chemical remedies now have a 50 percent success rate, said Terri Meinking, whose Miami-based company tests lice products.
For a year, Alqarwani and her husband, an Intel employee, worked on recipes. The final product is a mix of essential oils from India and France. It smells lightly of lavender and rosemary.
The product kills lice through suffocation and unsticks nits, making them easy to comb out, Alqarwani said.
Nitpik guarantees clients will be lice-free after two treatments.
A year ago Fox started the mobile lice clinic.
First, she screens each head of hair in the household. Infested hair is saturated with the essential oils. Fox then meticulously combs through the hair, over and over, with a thin-pronged lice comb.
“Our treatment is very soothing and relaxing,” Alqarwani said. “It doesn’t tear the hair out and it’s even comforting.”
Of greater comfort to many is Fox’s hush-hush promise. Although lice attacks are common, it’s an affliction many people don’t want to admit to.
Fox arrives at a client’s house in an unmarked vehicle. She carries the tools of her trade in an anonymous box.
“We don’t announce to the neighbors that we’re coming,” she said.
Social stigma has driven a recent revolution in school lice policies. Schools traditionally practiced a no-nit policy, sending home children with any nits in their hair.
In 2005, the California Department of Public Health moved to a no-lice policy, similar to that of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Kids with nits are not automatically sent home.
“Nits are often confused with other particles such as dandruff, and just because you see nits doesn’t mean the child will get lice,” said Dr. Vicki Kramer, chief of vector-borne disease at the California Department of Public Health.
The Folsom Cordova Unified School District changed its no-nit policy in 2007. Nits are less of nuisance today. When kids are found with live lice, parents are notified by the end of the day. Kids are re-checked 10 days later.
“Several families were having a very difficult problem dealing with lice, and their children were losing a lot of school days, meaning their academic progress was affected,” said Mary Ann Delleney, the district’s health coordinator.
“It is an amazingly horrible experience to go through,” said Jill Lillie, a Los Altos resident whose daughter wrote the book, “Natalie’s Lice Aren’t Nice!”
Natalie Lillie got lice when she was 8 years old and missed a week of school. Her favorite stuffed animals had to be bagged for two weeks. Her clothing, sheets and blankets were thoroughly laundered. Even worse, she wasn’t sure her friends were still her friends.
“One of the hardest things about having lice is telling others you have it,” she said. “I wanted to share my message with other kids and tell them even though it’s a bummer, it can happen to anyone and it will go away.”

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