According to the world health organization, up to twelve-million cases
of head lice are reported each year. School-aged children, between
three and ten, are most likely to get lice. At most schools, kids with
lice are sent home, where the parents are left to deal with the
problem. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson
reports, some lice-fighting experts are trying a new, pro-active
According to the world health organization, up to twelve-million cases of
head lice are reported each year.
School-aged children, between three and ten, are most likely to get lice.
At most schools, kids with lice are sent home, where the parents are left to
deal with the problem.
But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports, some
lice-fighting experts are trying a new, pro-active approach:
(sound of hallway)
Beach Elementary School in Cedar Springs, Michigan, looks like pretty much
like any other elementary school.
The linoleum floors are buffed to a high shine,
and the walls are decorated with crayon drawings.
But when you look down the hallways, you’ll see a strange sight: hundreds of
black, plastic trash bags hanging from the coat hooks.
“When the kids come in, they put all of their personal belongings –
coats, hats, gloves – in the-plastic bags. That’s how their clothing is
contained so that the bugs don’t have the opportunity to crawl.”
Vicky Bishop says more and more schools are using garbage bags this way –
when you see them, it’s a reminder of the ongoing struggle they face, trying
to eliminate lice.
Experts say about eighty-percent of school districts will have a lice
outbreak this year. At this school, the trash bags are a pro-active measure,
taken to cut down on the chance that an infestation will break out.
And, there’s another pro-active step the school’s taking.
On this Saturday morning, they’ve invited families from all over the
community to a special kind of open house – a chance to get de-loused.
Nurse: “Ok, are we checking all three?”
Nurse: “Everybody! Ok!”
Families are greeted at a sign-up table. Then they’re guided through a
series of rooms, where teams of lice-fighting experts are standing by to
shampoo and comb and look for lice.
The first stop is the evaluation station.
Every family member’s head is careful checked for live lice or their eggs,
Nurse: “And the big key is to make the difference between dandruff and the
nits. The nits won’t come off, dandruff can move – see, I can easily move
it. Okay, sweetie.”
The event is called Operation Lice Be Gone.
It’s the brainchild of lice consultant Vicky Bishop.
Bishop travels around the country, visiting dozens of schools a year and
advising teachers, nurses and parents how to get rid of lice infestations.
But she says before she can get down to work, there’s big hurdle to jump –
that is, overcoming the embarrassment and shame parents feel when their kids
“The lice problem is everywhere, it’s if people are willing to talk
about it or not. And once we get them to step up and start to talk about it
and address it, get over with the denial thing, then we can finally do
something about it.”
Many people believe lice outbreaks only happen in dirty houses, to unbathed
But in fact, all types of families are affected.
Most of the parents here today say they’ve tried using everything from
over-the-counter shampoos, to home remedies.
“We went from Rid to the Robie comb. We did mayonnaise, we called the
doctor. The doctor gave us a prescription. That didn’t work, either.”
But the experts here today say you can beat a lice problem – if you’re thorough and
They say a key component to success is teaching people about lice.
They’re tiny, blood-sucking parasites that live on the scalp, and lay eggs on
strands of hair.
They’re easy to get, and a lot harder to get rid of.
After the families are treated with a lice-killing shampoo, they put on
plastic shower caps and wait a half-hour for the solution to work.
While they wait, they visit the education room.
Todd Bilinsky and his five kids are gathered ‘round a microscope, checking
out a lice, magnified forty times.
Bilinsky says the family’s had a lice problem on and off for about two years.
“Every week, I’d go through their hair – almost on a daily basis, trying
to go through their hair. They just are tired of the treatments, and I’m
tired of giving them the treatments. And then I’m never sure
further down in their lives, what all these treatments, you know, what kind
of effect they’re going to have on them.”
And that brings up another goal of Operation Lice Be Gone.
Vicky Bishop and the other lice control experts here today are trying to raise
awareness of how to get rid of lice without using
They say safer shampoos are now available that use vegetable-derived enzymes.
However, there’s some debate about the effectiveness of those products.
Here in the rinse room, a young girl is in the final stages of her lice
“Here, put your head down there, we’ll rinse the very ends of it.”
Vicky Bishop is rinsing out the shampoo and re-inspecting the girl’s hair to
make sure all the lice are dead, and all the nits are gone.
Girl: “There’s one right there, on the end of it.”
Vicky: “Let’s see if that’s a nit. Will you hand me a nit comb, please?”
About thirty people were treated here today at Operation Lice Be Gone.
But Vicky Bishop says the project was still successful, because it’s getting
the word out about the lice epidemic – letting people know they aren’t
alone, and showing them it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Wendy Nelson in Cedar Springs,