They're no bigger than the head of a pin.
But families have been known to go to desperate measures to get rid of lice.
Just ask Penny Warner, founder of Texas Lice Squad.
When Warner's two young daughters both complained about itchy heads, Warner thought it must be from all the swimming they were doing.
"By the time I realized what it was, both girls had lice, I had lice and my husband had lice," Warner recalls.
She treated them with Nix three times, Rid two times and with olive oil. She cleaned her house from floor to ceiling. She threw out clothing and bedding. The family even vacated their house for a weekend hoping the lice would go away while they were gone.
"They came with us," she says. "I cried. The children cried. It took eight months to get rid of them."
When her daughter came home with lice two years later, Warner was determined that she would never go through that ordeal again. So she got on the Internet and found a non-profit organization in Florida that helped people get rid of lice. The owner told her about how to use nit combs and non-toxic products to eradicate lice.
An idea began to form in her mind. Warner discovered that nobody in the state of Texas offered a similar service. At the time, she was working as director of risk management for a large Houston hospital system, suffering from major job burnout. After talking with her husband, she decided to start her own delousing service.
"I knew I couldn't be the only mother in the world who felt like I did," says Warner. "If I had found a place like that two years ago, I would have paid any amount of money to get rid of the lice."
She opened for business on April 1, 2006, putting up a web site and sending out flyers to local pediatricians. Initially, the calls trickled in. But word about Texas Lice Squad has quickly spread, and she now gets as many as eight calls a day. She estimates she has treated 500 to 600 people so far.
"Now I'm to the point where I have to turn people away," Warner says.
Warner has flown to Alabama to delouse a family and regularly travels around the state of Texas. Her customers have come from as far away as Africa for her services. "If people are willing to pay my expenses, I'll go anywhere," she says.
Warner is opening her Texas Lice Squad treatment center October 15 in Missouri City near Houston and plans on expanding to Texas cities such as Dallas and Austin.
Warner is part of an emerging industry that has sprung up to battle head lice -- one of the most common issues for young children and their parents.
Lice spread from one child's head to the other through contact with an infested person's clothing, brushes or other belongings. Discourage your child from sharing combs, brushes, towels or hats with friends. Lice make their home in human hair, nourishing themselves with blood from the scalp, holding onto the hair with hook-like claws found at the end of their six legs. The average number of lice on a child's head is about 10.
In recent years, they have become increasingly difficult to get rid of as they have become resistant to chemicals such as permethrin and pyrethrin, which are found in Nix and Rid, which can trigger asthma and other respiratory problems. Scientists at the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre in Cardiff, UK discovered four out of five lice were resistant to the chemicals. And many are ineffective against the eggs, which is why it can be so difficult to get rid of lice.
Warner charges $80/hour for her services, with the average session lasting 2 1/2 hours. During the session, she painstakingly combs out every nit and uses a non-toxic enzyme solution that softens the glue that attaches the nits to the hair shaft. She just worked on a curly headed little girl who took four hours to delouse.
She knows it may sound expensive. But she believes it's money well spent, when one takes into account lost days of school and work and countless hours of frustration. Warner guarantees that children will be readmitted to school the next day or the fee is returned.
In addition to helping families eliminate lice, Texas Lice Squad offers a variety of preventative steps in an attempt to safeguard the child and other family members from reoccurring cases.
She sells a peppermint spray -- lice don't like the smell of mint -- that can be used once a day. Parents are urged to comb their child's hair for five minutes a night to makes sure every nit is gone. Once a nit hatches, a female louse can lay up to 300 eggs.
She has some parents who want her to come back in a week for peace of mind. "If you can check once a week, you can save yourself so much heartache later on," Warner says.
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