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Sunday, May 30, 2004

The third plague

I sometimes feel that the picture I paint of life in Israel is too idyllic… too rosy… too (what’s the word I’m looking for?)… ah yes, perfect. That’s it, too perfect. Well, boys and girls, today I have the perfect entry to help dispel whatever misperceptions I may have encouraged among the far-flung readership here at treppenwitz.

Yes folks, there is trouble in paradise. It seems our house has been visited by a plague of biblical proportions (specifically the third plague that we read about in the Passover Haggaddah). Last night we found out that Ariella has lice.

I’ll wait a moment while those of you outside of Israel recoil in horror and silently wonder what kind of unwashed, backwoods, third-world influence you’ve allowed into your life. Those of you in Israel can spend this time nodding sagely and thinking, “Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt.”

All better now? Good.

Now that that first shiver of revulsion has (hopefully) passed, allow me to dispel some misconceptions (some of which I held until last night), and to think out loud about my own feelings on the subject:

Only people with bad hygiene get lice. Right? Well, no, not exactly. Lice can certainly thrive in an environment where standards of personal hygiene are relatively low. But they also can be found in areas where ‘western standards of hygiene are the norm. Regions of the world where a wide range of hygienic standards prevail (like Israel), are bound to have a higher incidence of lice. In places where there are lice...younger kids with long hair seem to be more likely to get the little pests.

Isn’t there some kind of a quarantine period that could stop the spread of lice? In many places, yes. But in Israel…no. I’m not exactly sure why this is (maybe some of my veteran Israeli guests can shed some light on this point), but not only is there no quarantine period here…it is even illegal for school staff to check for lice. I remember in the states that every child had to pass a lice check before the start of the school year, and any child with the problem would be sent home until the plague had passed.

You have to shave a kid’s head to get rid of lice, right? Thankfully, no. There are plenty of over-the-counter and prescription treatments for lice. But almost all of them are extremely toxic (or even carcinogenic) to humans. Another wrinkle is that, in similar fashion to antibiotic resistant germs, lice seem to have developed a strong resistance to most of the chemical treatments.

So, what do you do? The answer is rather low-tech (and fairly revolting). First, the hair needs to be carefully combed out with a lice comb (a small comb with extremely closely spaced teeth) and then comes the time-consuming process of manually finding and removing any remaining nits (yes folks, this is where the term ‘nit pick’ comes from). While this is being done, all bed linen, clothing, and toys need to be washed in very hot water and put away in a sealed plastic bag for a few days. After a hot shower and a thorough shampoo and conditioning, a second comb out is done and then, a healthy coating of olive oil is applied to all the hair. This apparently clogs the air holes in any remaining eggs and smothers them in a matter of hours. Repeat the above process daily until all traces of lice are gone.


I’m trying really hard to be Israeli about this…but the American in me is still freaking out!!! MY DAUGHTER CAN’T POSSIBLY HAVE LICE! OK, what comes after denial in the 12 steps…anger? OK, I’m there, now what?

Maybe it’s best that this happened when most of my US readers are far from their computers (Memorial Day weekend)…because what I really need is some good advice and a few stories from my Israeli readers to reassure me that I haven’t somehow failed as a parent.

Dear readers, if you have made it this far and are not too busy scratching imaginary lice from your heads...I could use a little consolation.

Posted by David Bogner on May 30, 2004 | Permalink


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Yes, we went through this mostly with our daughter who, of course, has seriously thick, long and wavy hair. We did permathrine when it first came out here and it was a G*d-send.

Between attacks we regularly combed her hair with the lice comb, but in combination with "Sarekal" which is an after shampoo creme with rosemary in it that apparently the little critters don't like. Made using the comb a breeze. There's also Sarekal shampoo and conditioner.

You unfortunately do have to launder the sheets and clothes in very hot water and put away all those fuzzy toys that are on her bed in a plastic bag for a month if they can't be washed in hot water. Additionally, don't forget to delouse her brush and comb.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. Once they get past grade school this plague tends to go away.

Good Luck, Jim! :D

(why is my scalp suddenly itchy?)

Posted by: jennifer | May 30, 2004 1:37:01 PM

Thanks...If you're going to start calling me Jim (from 'Mission Impossible'), perhaps from now on I'll call you '99' (kids who are too young to remember 'Get Smart' are now scratching their heads for reasons other than imaginary lice).

Posted by: David | May 30, 2004 1:59:55 PM

I wouldn't be so jumpy about the chemicals in the anti-lice shampoos that are out there. It's not like you're going to use them every day.

Funny enough, lice just seem to "like" certain kids and their hair. My five year old daughter, who has short, fine, sparse, hair, keeps picking the suckers up from the kids in her gan, afterschool program and summer camps. Luckily, because she has so little hair, they are relatively easy to spot. But the eggs are a bitch to get rid of.

Despite lots of physical contact, her lice don't seem to transfer to others in the household. They just like her.

We're practically nonchalant about it round here. The only thing that was traumatic was when we lost this really great babysitter. She caught the lice from my daughter, and her mom caught lice from her, and forbid her to ever babysit at our house again.

Posted by: Allison | May 30, 2004 2:10:39 PM

hmmm...just this morning I asked rhonda if she wanted to finally go to efrat for shabbat...looks like we'll put that off for awhile :-)

seriously, we had this with aviva, and the daily nit-picking did the trick with no chemicals...and short haircuts don't hurt either (and considering the weather coming up, they're more comfortable). one thing I can say for sure - dave, you won't get the plague.

is gilly spending more time in front of the mirror checking his scalp?

Posted by: yonah | May 30, 2004 3:04:59 PM


While I can't give you any comfort fram a parent's POV, I do remember when I had a biblical-scale case of head lice for a while. In the end, shampoo (one that kills the eggs or "unbinds" them from the hair) plus use of a lice comb got rid of them after a week or two (can't say if/how my parents treated the sheets, though) of daily use. In short; this, too, shall pass. Good luck and good hunting

Posted by: Eyal | May 30, 2004 3:20:53 PM

OK, in no particular order:


Thanks for the kind thoughts. Pesonal experience is a good teacher. Hearing your experience makes it a little easier to face.


Make all the cracks you want about my hairline (or lack-thereof)...the gene police are on their way over to your house with the siren and lights on!

And Allison,

I know it will sound selfish of me...but I sincerely hope you are right. I don't want to think about this going around and around the family. On a lighter note, though...I'm impressed that you actaully got yourself black-listed by a a babysitter.

Posted by: David | May 30, 2004 3:30:58 PM

Been there, done that, and I'm glad you've broached a topic I can comment on in your blog. (And how pathetic am I that it's lice???)

Contrary to popular opinion, having lice is not an indication of dirty hair, poor hygeine, etc. Lice, in fact, prefer a clean environment. They're actually happier on a frequently shampooed scalp than a greasy hillbilly clotted lump of dandruff and eczema. 9 out of 10 lice agree. It's true!

Posted by: Chuck | May 31, 2004 1:53:37 AM

Thanks Chuck...the rational side of my brain is starting to realize that what you say is true...but I'm having a lot of trouble dealing with my long-standing prejudices on the subject; nice people don't get lice!

Crap! Every time I even think about it it makes my head itch!!!

By the way, can I assume from your latest posts that Beth didn't get the usual e-mail barrage of real estate Listings for Alaska?

Posted by: David | May 31, 2004 6:35:14 AM

Itchy phantom lice head? Do what I did: Bic it!

Re: Fairbanks real estate. Uh, no, no listings this time around. Beth laid down the law at the airport: We are NOT moving to Fairbanks, end of story. I don't think there's any way I could put positive spin on a locale that is dark 24/7 half the year and gets down to 50 below zero, no matter how nice it might be right now.

Anchorage, now... That's another story. Ha.

Posted by: Chuck | May 31, 2004 6:49:51 AM

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and assume you are talking about the Bic disposable razor and not the lighter.

Regarding 50F below... now that's fur coat weather. I'm surprised Beth wasn't all over the idea!

Posted by: David | May 31, 2004 8:21:09 AM

I see my old man has put his two-cents in. We lived through lice in kindergarten. Zoe got infested, and dealing with that with waist-length fine, easily-tangled curly hair was my nightmare. As Chuck pointed out, lice prefer clean scalps to dirty, and it turns out they're also mad for styling products, specifically gel. Must taste yummy to them.

My sympathy for your current predicament, but it's more a gigantic pain in the ass than anything else.

At Zoe's current school, if a kid shows up with head lice, they cannot attend school for three days. That's manditory. And then for the next two weeks, every single morning, every kid in the class goes through a "lice-check" before gaining admittance to the classroom.

This is better than her preschool, where one of the kids had lice (thankfully we escaped that outbreak), but they were not kept home. I braided Zoe's hair every morning and pinned it to her head, to minimize the chances of infestation. That seemed to work.

Don't forget to throw away all the pony-tail clips, barettes, and other hair do-dads that cannot be boiled.

Oh, and good luck.

Posted by: beth | May 31, 2004 9:36:42 AM

Tea Tree Oil helps. Better a shampoo containing it since the undiluted stuff straight can really sting. The smell still reminds me of finally succeeding in getting rid of the lice.

my scalp itches too now.


Posted by: Kris | May 31, 2004 9:37:53 AM

Oh, and about Alaksa. No f*(&#%g way. There are not enough fur coats on this planet.

Posted by: beth | May 31, 2004 9:38:05 AM

Thanks...Gilad joined the club last night (and he has nearly a buzz cut).

This too shall pass.

Posted by: David | May 31, 2004 9:54:25 AM

Hi all! It is the itchy "Mrs. Treppenwitz" thanking you all for your (non-judgemental) expressions of sympathy and advice!

Unfortunately, the tree tea oil shampoo thing does NOT work on Israeli lice. I immediately bought it (upon arrival, and the start of the school year) and have had the kids wash their hair every other day in attempt to neither be too clean nor too tasty..... So another wives' tale bites (pardon the pun!) the dust.

Seems the only way is "manual removal"... though I confess to having succumbed to another wives' tale and purchased a bottle of essential rosemary oil which i will dab behind each kiddie's ears every morning for the rest of their parental-residence lives. Doubt it'll do anything except make me think I'm doing SOMETHING to be proactive!

Oh, and Beth – I heartily agree! No WAY there are enough fur coats in the world for ALASKA! :-)

Posted by: zahava | May 31, 2004 10:02:02 AM

Kris, Where does one find straight tea tree oil? I've only seen shampoos and such with the essense added. My wife's comments aside...I would want to see if the straight oil works.

Posted by: David | May 31, 2004 12:30:39 PM

Just had to post. ... we had a lice epidemic in our college dormitories. We knew any one coming out of the clinic with a paper bag was 'liced'. We called WICC (local AM station) and had them play "And I can't get you outta me head..."
Also, my roommate wore her full length fur coat to the clinic for her check...and insisted they check it as well. Ha.

Posted by: lisa | Jun 1, 2004 6:10:29 PM

You kill me...I should put on the whole soundtrack to 'HAIR!'

Posted by: David | Jun 1, 2004 6:22:58 PM

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