Sunday, May 3, 2009

Decontamination Protocols: Phase One In Force

No. It's nothing to do with the Irish fiddlers. The last of them took off yesterday, full of lingering good cheer, booze, and tasty food. It wasn't a bad weekend. It could have been, if I hadn't simply written it off to music and kids. There's no way I could have actually achieved anything. But accepting it as a weekend of noise, chaos, music, kids, and so forth meant it worked just fine.

The Decon Protocols actually refer to a much more cosmopolitan and pedestrian pest: Pediculus humanis capitis, better known as the all-too-fucking-common Head Louse. Natalie's been scratching her head and complaining for over a week now, but we put it down to the change in weather. However, the Mau-Mau started scratching too, and a cursory examination showed she had rather a number of fellow travellers aboard.

Ahhhh, shit.

On the good side: my background with bugs means I don't get uptight about this stuff. Lice happen, especially when you've got a three-year-old in daycare. And as pests and parasites go, lice are really no big deal. They're vulnerable to an exciting array of chemical countermeasures, and better still, they don't survive away from the host for very long. All you have to do is kill the present lot of adults with some kind of treatment, then repeat the dose in about six days -- after the new lot hatch, but before they can start breeding.

In the meantime, it makes sense to wash hats, pillowcases, bedding and the like in good hot water (add a little bleach if you wanna get serious), then dry and air them thoroughly in the sun. Run the vacuum around the place to pick up any stray hairs that might be carrying an egg. That's it. You're done.

Except, of course, that you have to make sure you co-ordinate with the people your kids play with. There's really not that much resistance to chemicals in the louse community. Mostly, what people think is resistance is actually nothing more than reinfestation from contact with an external source.

Ergo: even though Natalie and the Mau-Mau were the only ones with any sign of buggy buddies, I've spent the morning treating everyone in the whole damned house. The girls got a Maldison-based shampoo, which is nasty but effective... and not recommended unless an infestation is confirmed. The boys (including yours truly) got a treatment involving a commercial blend of ti-tree, lemon, and eucalyptus oils. Stinky as hell, but not nearly as toxic as good old Maldison.

The Tale of the Comb was telling. (Those super-fine-tooth combs? They're fuck-all use in terms of treatment. But they can help confirm the existence of an infestation.) Natalie and the Mau-Mau were both well occupied. The boys and I - shorter hair? - were all clear.

Being Mister Overkill, the way I usually am, I also picked up a nifty hairspray. It's a mix of pyrethrum (a bug killer) plus various active, pleasant-smelling oils. Orange and lemon, just for starters. You spray it into the dry hair after treatment, and use it daily for a while. It should prevent any reinfestation. I'll keep it up for two weeks. By that time, even if there are any eggs or bugs left in the house, they'll be long dead.

The thing to remember about lice is that they're not like fleas. They stay really close to their hosts. They don't nest in bedding. They don't leave eggs and larvae in the carpet. If they're away from the nice, safe, warm scalp for long, they go belly-up.

On the whole, they're pretty pathetic as parasites go. Now, if only I could coax Natalie back down from the ceiling, where she is hanging, all a-quiver with a truly epic attack of the Ick.