The Lice of Life

Back in my day when we had head lice-checks, the lunch ladies would come in with popsickle sticks and root around our heads while squinting. I hated it – I don’t like messy, unkempt hair. So, I’d always have mom take me to get a haircut a day or two before the lice screening so my hair would be short enough not to be bothered by the stick. Yes, that’s right – I had pre-lice screening plans.

Today, however, it’s much different:

Cathy Tarala is armed with a headlight, a magnifying visor over her eyes and a comb called “The Terminator.” Her enemy – tiny but resilient – is pediculus capitis. Most parents know it as head lice.

Tarala is a contractor for the Lice Squad, a $60-an-hour service that treats lice (pediculosis) in homes, performs head checks in schools and trains volunteers on school committees on how to spot them.

At many schools and daycares, regular lice screening is as much a part of the routine as safe arrival calls. Getting rid of lice can be tricky, time-consuming and expensive, requiring hours of combing and checking for live lice along with the tiny, brownish eggs that they leave glued to hair shafts close to the scalp.

By the time today is over, this family will have spent more than $200 for the 90-minute treatment, Lice Squad supplies to repeat the process and the special shampoo and comb bought earlier at a pharmacy.

Now that’s a business — “I’m going to look at your child’s head so you don’t have to and you’re going to pay me to do it. And, you’re going to buy all my supplies and fancy tools, like a magnifying glass and a comb.”

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