Creepy, Crawly, Contagious Things- What if your Au Pair catches them too?

by cv harquail on July 27, 2014

Gdaisy hair(Reposted from our archives, since an Au Pair Asked…)

When I became a mom I knew that that I would need to become accustomed to dealing with things that, pre-motherhood, had completely grossed me out. I’m talking about poopy diapers, vomit, bloody noses, fart jokes, and public belching.

These were things that I would have to deal with, gross or not, because I was “the mom”. The one in charge. The person with answers. The person with strategies for everything. Except for the things that I never imagined I’d have to deal with … like lice.

Lice are one of those ‘creepy, crawly, contagious things’ that completely gross me out.

Whenever we would get those flyers from the pre-K or the YMCA day camp telling us that some little one at school or camp had head lice and that we all needed to check our kids, I’d shudder at the suggestion. Then, I’d toss the flyers in the trash, and congratulate myself that these gross little things would never, ever find their way home on my daughters’ heads.

The universe guffawed at my naiveté.

Dragonflyshollow Jenna

And then, during what seemed to be a never ending barrage of head lice handouts, I finally got the call from the school nurse. One of my girlies had to be sent home for “treatment”.

If you’ve ever read those handouts from the pre-K (you don’t just toss them out, do you?) you’d know that if one person in the household has head lice, you can pretty much assume everyone else does too.

That includes you Mom. And yes, that includes your Au Pair. Etsy DanburyLane

So how do you tell your au pair that she might have creepy, crawly, contagious, impossible to get rid of bugs in her hair, all because she snuggles with your child when they read books or watch a video together?

How do you get her to use the stinky harsh lice shampoo, not once but several times, after she’s colored her hair so often that she’s afraid another Garnier Nutrisse will cause it all to break off? And, how do you get her to sit there in the kitchen for two hours, while you comb and pick through her whole head?

Talk about up close and personal …

How do you get her to wash every single thing in her room? (Hint: you do that yourself.)

How do you convince your Au Pair that the lice aren’t your fault, or your kids’ fault, or your dog’s fault, when you feel totally ashamed anyway?

None of this was easy. I tried to think of it as a learning experience.

blue hair on Flickr Several rounds of lice shampoo, combing, olive oil nightcaps, and laundry madness did nothing but test my self-composure and my creepy crawly endurance.

Finally, I admitted that not even Her Mom-ness, myself, could treat the situation effectively with over the counter, at-home remedies.

I broke down and called a professional, one of those women who come to your house, puts on a magnifying eyeshade, and gets down to the dirty business. For around $200 per person.

Let me just say that was $800 I would rather have spent some other way. (I economized by asking my husband to get a supershort SuperCut.)

Let me also say:  If When your family is attacked by creepy crawly, contagious things, do the the right thing and include your au pair in the ‘professional treatment plan’.

While neither you nor she can think of that $200 treatment as a bonus, a gift, or a tip, you can think of it as one important time that you treat your au pair like a full fledged member of the family.

After all, the creepy crawly things did.


Calif mom March 3, 2009 at 3:58 am

If this happens to one of yours, please check out the website of the Harvard School of Public Health. They have the BEST advice on dealing with head lice (hint: in our region, none of those nasty shampoos or alternative treatments will work because the lice have developed resistance. You can test this by treating one of the buggers and putting it in a ziplock to see if the treatment works). The only cure is physically removing ticks and eggs (nits). Once you know what you’re looking for, they are easy to spot. The nausea is another thing…

CVH, you did the right thing in using manual removal — all those little nits really do have to be removed by hand. I had no idea you can hire this task out! Rent lots of videos and get a metal comb, they work much better than those lame plastic ones.

No one needs to get a haircut because of this.

And please, while lice are technically contagious in that they travel from one person to another, they are not a vector of other illnesses! You cannot get sick from lice, just itchy. I am much more upset when strep-infected kids are sent to school because Mom doesn’t want to deal with it. But I digress…

And please don’t feel ashamed! It is one of those things. Like kids picking their nose. It happens.

Dawn March 3, 2009 at 5:09 pm

cvh, I’m so sorry you had to deal with this in your family, but I appreciate you letting the rest of us learn from your experience! I’ve been lucky and haven’t had to deal with this in my home yet (my two older kids are boys and have very short hair, so there’s been nothing for the lice to “grab onto,” but I know I’ll probably deal with it soon now that my daughter is in preschool!), but I did have to deal with it when I was on the Board of my son’s cooperative preschool. Definitely not fun, and there are a lot of misconceptions out there about lice, so I can TOTALLY understand how mortified you were to have to tell your AP that she might have them!

In addition to what Calif Mom mentioned above about lice NOT carrying other diseases (contrary to popular belief), another common misconception is that lice are a sign of poor hygiene. To the contrary, they are actually more attracted to CLEAN hair, so you can take it as a sign of good hygiene that they chose your family, LOL!

Another “tip” I thought I’d mention is about washing clothing and linens — in order to kill the lice/nits, the water temperature has to be at least 120 degrees. However, many families (mine included) have the regulator on our hot water heaters set lower than that in order to be safer for our kids. If you have an outbreak of lice in your home, be sure to check (and reset if necessary) your hot water heater to ensure that you are washing the affected items in hot enough water.

hOstCDmom July 28, 2014 at 9:46 am

A sanity saving tip. Lice cannot live off of their human host for very long (opinion varies, but ranges between 24 and 96hours). Thus, one does NOT need to wash every item of clothing (bedding yes), rather choose 2 outfits, close the closet for 4 days. Wash the chosen outfits, and wear only the chosen outfits, do one load of laundry each night with the outfits from the day.

Similarly, decide that you will not use your family room, playroom, couches etc. rather than cleaning, bagging, vacuuming etc. every soft good/upholstered item. Close off the rooms (doors if you have them, or blue painter’s tape if you don’t!) and don’t use them. Any lice on any throw, sofa or chair will die in the course of 4 days. They can’t live without a human to feed them and/or keep them warm.

Freezer is also helpful for items that can’t be put in the dryer– put all hair accessories, hairbrushes in bag in freezer for 72hours.

Things that don’t otherwise need to be washed (i.e. are clean, but you are worried there could be lice on them due to head contact), can simply be put in the dryer. Dryer heat kills lice and nits. Drying only saves time. So some dry clean only items can simply be dryed (if heat won’t damage).

Focus your efforts on the human heads and the bedding, because otherwise the process can make one CRAZY!! :)

AussiePair July 28, 2014 at 9:58 am

aargh, this post makes me itchy just thinking about it!!

I haven’t had a host parent tell me that their kids and this I may have lice, but I did have to tell my host family that I has found a louse on MY head, we then thoroughly checked through the kids and found the kindergarten had brought them home. Coming from a childcare background I’m used to keeping an eye out for these things and checking myself regularly, I was mortified that *I* had missed them I his hair (although his grandmother had looked earlier in the day and said she couldn’t find anything…). As it turns out I’m the one in my family back home that everyone calls to come sit for hours and pick the lice and eggs out of their kids hair… We spent 3 days obsessively combing through everyone’s hair (grandma, grandpa, host mom, two kidlets and au pair!) and managed to get rid of them. Another tip is to bag things up in a trash bag and put them out side, the lice can’t live off a human head for long (this works really well for stuffed animals the children sleep with/on), or if you’re lucky enough for them to invade your house in the middle of a cold winter, put coats/scarves/hats etc. out in the freezing cold!!

AussiePair July 28, 2014 at 10:06 am

Also as soon as you get one of those letters, start sending your son/daughter to school with hairspray/tea tree oil sprayed into their hair, the lice can’t hold onto the hair because of the hairspray, and the tea tree oil is toxic to them

Aussie HM July 28, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Ahh teatree oil, my nannas cure for almost everything!

AussiePair July 28, 2014 at 8:28 pm

So it should be! It works! You wouldn’t believe how expensive it is here though, at least compared to what I’m used to paying in Aus

NJ Mama July 28, 2014 at 1:49 pm

OMG I could have written this post a few years ago. Except I wasn’t necessarily the parent who threw out the notices — I was the one convinced that because my kids used one of those anti-lice shampoos, conditioners and sprays, which got us all through daycare, that we’d never get it. How wrong I was.

We got hit our first time about 3 weeks after I started a new, very intense job. And of course we didn’t figure out what was going on until one of my kids was far along. And of course I got them too!! Thankfully we had an amazing au pair with us who really helped us with everything, and thought nothing of diving right in to help with the vacuuming and yes even combing. The lice shampoos did NOTHING — just, as I’ve learned, as the lice prevention hair care products (Fairy tales, etc) don’t t do much either.

After several days of torture I finally found one of those nitpickers and shelled out the big bucks. It stinks but it was worth it for two reasons — I had them, and honestly let’s face it when mom gets anything like that you’re doomed unless you can find a professional to help. (not to mention that my husband practically needs a magnifying glass to read the newspaper). And the second is that once a pro takes care of the problem, you finally feel some sense of security that it’s gone. This is particularly true when you had a bad first experience of repeat lice shampoos that are useless. Not sure about your nitpicker cv but mine offered a free check the following week.

It has since happened two more times, and both times we caught it early, so only 1-2 family members got them (I frequently check my kids and ask the au pair to do so too. And I am not at all embarrassed to alert school or camp when I find them on my kids. I wish more parents would do so).

I will say that all of my au pairs have been really cool about it. I also think it helped that when we launched into action we hit every room in the house (including theirs – my kids often hang out on my au pair’s bed so you can never be too careful), stripping sheets, vacuuming and bagging clothes/blankets/stuffed toys. You can bag clothes/stuff toys/blankets etc for a few days, but if you get hit in the winter — like we did the first time — we just don’t have enough blankets to go around so we hit the laundromat. Also I have dry cleaned a few of their clothes when I know they wanted to wear a particular outfit out. Again … lots of $$$ but what are you gonna do?

I also think that because after that first experience I do not hesitate in calling the expert in, everyone feels better once they’ve been thoroughly checked and/or combed. Thankfully none of the au pairs have gotten them. (But goddamn I am itchy just thinking about all this!!!)

I think the lesson learned is that lice are everywhere and while preconceived notions persist, it’s rare to find people who at least didn’t know someone whose had them.

HOstCDmom – I like your suggestion to choose a few outfits to wash and seal up the drawers and closets for a few days. We did something similar by bagging stuff. If you get hit in the winter, and your kids like to sleep with a lot of stuffed animals, it can be tough. I usually bag stuff for a week b/c I’m that kind of neurotic but you are right a few days should be all that you need!

Good luck cv and know you’re not alone!!!

Should be working July 28, 2014 at 2:13 pm

I am thrilled with OCDMom’s suggestion of picking out a few outfits and laundering and wearing only those, instead of doing all the clothes!! We do, however, wash all the sheets every night during a bout of lice. We vacuum all carpets (we have wall-to-wall) and the couch, because everyone is going to sit on that.

I am also with NJ mama on shelling out the bucks for the lice lady to come to your house. It is simply a matter of outsourcing not only the task but the stress. Catching every last nit is HER problem, not mine, and I don’t have to feel responsible for anything. My eyes don’t focus on tiny closeup things, hers do. I love having a professional take over, and I order pizza and everyone is allowed to watch lots of tv. So the cure is much more relaxing than me trying to solve the problem–with an AP and a daughter with long, thick hair.

Should be working July 28, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Also, bagging up the stuffed animals and putting them away somewhere has a hidden benefit: The kids might not ask for them back and then the room is a lot less cluttered. When kids were smaller I even used it as a chance to ‘disappear’ a really awful stuffed animal or two (my daughter had tons).

NJ Mama July 28, 2014 at 3:04 pm

LOL yes should be working — after that first bout, my kids got rid of a lot of the stuffed toys and only have one or two on the bed at a time :)..

Outsourcing is a beautiful thing!

Repeataupair July 28, 2014 at 10:34 pm

You work with kids, the chances are you are going to catch whatever they are catching, from lice to other stuff. I had lice many times (apparently I was the kind of kids they like, plus note to those who don’t know, lice like clean heads !), my mom even took into consideration to dye my hair when I was 8 as she was so tired of it (dye does not go well with lice apparently). Anyway, that might be the reason why I am not as freaked out but working in camp we would get kids with lice quite often so everyone would make sure to keep their hair up and I would use the lice spray as a prevention, sometimes the shampoo. It is not very pleasant but even when I got it again as an adult noone else in my family got it, you just want to boil your sheets, comb your hair with that special comb that is sold with it and do that for a few evening.

People make a big fuss about it, it’s just an annoying thing, I would love not to be paying for the shampoo and stuff if that happened in my host family but I would not request it.
You’ll laugh about it at some point !

SwissAuPair July 29, 2014 at 12:10 am

When I was a kid, my mom washed my hair with something called “Willow Bark Shampoo”. I was told that it would prevent lice. I can not say if the shampoo really prevents, but I never had live. Not at school. And not later as an Aupair, even when the whole family had lice.

Peachtree Mom July 29, 2014 at 7:32 am

I like the hairspray idea. My 6 year old is always spraying hairspray or putting eye make up on until she resembles Barbie Goes to Vegas.

Skny July 29, 2014 at 6:39 pm

When working with children in orphanage we had great success with citronella oil as a prevention. A double blind study actually showed great evidence that it works. Anyway, we just added it to the shampoo the kids used. Not sure it was the right way to use the oil, but we had very little lice going around

AuPairToBe July 31, 2014 at 5:40 pm

I took care of kids with lice many times and I found it to be a normal thing. One thing that I learn that also helps is to wash your (the kids as well) hair with vinegar on a regular basis. There was one time that the only way of getting the lice of their heads was with a mix of vinegar and olive oil and using one of those metal combs And after that the only thing to do is pick them one by one.
As an Au Pair in the making I think that this is one of those situations you know it might happen so the reasonable thing to do is to help out in every way one can

MommyMia August 6, 2014 at 10:09 am

A few years ago when we were hit several times in a few months, our Brazilian au pair was the calming, sane one. She had experienced lice many times as a child, and was patient and matter-of-fact and SO helpful in combing, shampooing, laundering, etc. If it hadn’t been for her, my near-hysterics surely would have felled us all. My pet peeve, however, is the school and their “nurse” (a glorified secretary who gets the attendance/health issues because the district only has one RN for all the schools) who keep xeroxing the outdated lice alerts which don’t include current information/best practices and the fact that over-the-counter shampoos are useless. In my area, lice are resistent to any and every known toxic and non-toxic substance; the APA and AMA recommend a new alcohol gel (I forget the name – you can google it) which is prescription only and a bit pricey but it worked like a charm! The plastic combs that come with RID and other OTC products are a joke-the teeth are too widely spaced to catch any lice or nits; we use an old metal cat flea comb. The Hair Fairies commercial services sell a similar “wavy” metal comb for about $35.

Comments on this entry are closed.