Creepy Crawly Critters

This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Richard Pearson, a Family Practice resident at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

After school your son goes outside to play.  Later he comes in dirty and sweaty, and then pulls the crumpled letter from his backpack. It’s on school letterhead, formal intro……LICE???  They found lice in your son’s hair!  Your head spins: Where did he get them? Does he have to miss school?  Do my other kids have them?  DO I HAVE THEM? You unconsciously begin scratching your head.

Head lice is not uncommon in school children.  Lice are critters that live on the scalp, biting and taking blood for nourishment.  They can’t jump like fleas or fly like mosquitoes, they simply walk around.  Their bites don’t spread infections but they do itch, often the only symptom.

Since lice only walk, they pass from person to person soley by direct contact. For this reason, taking selfies with others has been recognized as a new mode of transmission. Your son likely got lice from a schoolmate, or someone else in your house. But simply being in the same classroom is safe: kids diagnosed with lice should finish the school day, avoiding head contact with others, and start treatment that evening.

Treatment is straight-forward.  First, check everyone in the house, and yourself! Everyone must be treated simultaneously so they don’t re-infect each other after treatment. The best treatments are over-the-counter products like Permethrin 1% lotion.  Follow the directions on the box carefully. Sometimes it takes two or more treatments.  If you’ve heard that lice in your area are resistant, call your doctor about alternatives.

After treatment, comb out the lice and eggs with a fine-toothed comb.  Re-comb daily. Clothes and bedding should be washed in hot water and dried in high heat.  If a favorite stuffed animal or pillow can’t be washed, putting them in sealed plastic bag for 2 weeks will starve lice or eggs.  Kids with super-thick piles of curly hair will be easier to treat after a shorter haircut.

The CDC and American Academy of Dermatology websites have great articles on lice eradication. Their instructions are simple, and tell you what not to go crazy over.  So you can be rid of lice and move on!

Everyone in Louisiana knows mosquitoes.  Many also have run-ins with fleas or scabies, not to mention the lice we talked about above.  All these critters attack your skin, bite, and cause itchies. Treat with anti-itch cream and maybe some Benadryl, in case of fleas treat your pets too, and you’re done.  Then, there’s bedbugs.

Bedbugs are tougher.  They are bugs like lice, that crawl on your skin and bite to suck blood.  They look like walking apple seeds.  However, bedbugs only bite when you’re sleeping and then go hide, so you never see them.  All you know is that you’re getting itchy bumps, and assume it’s mosquitoes.

If you’re getting more itchy bumps at night, and are pretty sure there aren’t swarms of mosquitoes in your house, you may have bedbugs.  Time to look: they hide in crevices in mattresses or other furniture.  If you find them, call a pest management professional, because unlike lice they’re hard to eradicate.

The good news is that preventing bedbugs isn’t hard.  They’re most often picked up when you travel, staying in hotels or other’s homes.  If you’re not careful they’ll hitch a ride home in your suitcase, or if you buy used furniture that you haven’t inspected carefully.

Here’s how to prevent un-wanted fellow travelers.  If you start getting itchy bumps while staying elsewhere, unmake the bed and inspect the mattress seams.  If you find them or their dirt, move out!  Keep your suitcase on a luggage rack: bedbugs aren’t jumpers and can’t crawl up the smooth legs of the rack.  If you put your clothes in hotel drawers, inspect them first.  Put dirty clothes in a sealed plastic bag.  If you buy used furniture, check it carefully.

If bedbugs get in your house, they’re expensive and difficult to eliminate.  But the good news is that though they’re gross and itchy, like lice they don’t carry diseases.  But it’s another case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, like the cost of a new mattress and the exterminator.

So take care when traveling; you don’t want unwanted hitchhikers!