Monday, May 24, 2010

Lice and the Wriggles

Many a tolerant friend has entered my kitchen when we are in throes of head lice eradication and lived to tell the tale (whilst furiously scratching). Head lice slaughter in our household has a fraught and bloodied history. Conditioner slathered through our hair. Comb. Garlic-infused olive oil. Chili. KP24. I've been sold so many pesticides by over-earnest, eighteen year old, wannabe make-up consultants in pharmacies over the years, I've paid their weekly ecstasy and cocktail bills several times over by now.

The walk home from school often involved a visit to the Health Department for a quick family nit check. A resulting positive would garner us some free treatment, a noxious smelling chemical handed out in those nasty little brown bottles with the child proof lid and indented ridges down the side.

An old hippy Mum from Denmark once told me; "Families with straight, thin, oily hair tend to suffer from worms. Families with drier, thicker, curlier hair get head lice." Those old hippy Denmark Mums have got it all going on, but this fact of family life is just so unfair. Try dragging a metal nit comb with the diametre of an Egyptian cotton thread count through (dry, curly, thick) hair like ours and you understand just how unfair this biological reality is.
I've resorted in occasional, desperate moments to kerosene. These days I think kerosene is the bomb, especially when there is matches involved. It's the napalm of nits, kero. All power to the petrochemicals.

Life goes on, kids grow up. As they grow older, head lice is not so much of an issue. I think the main reason is that between the ages of ten and thirteen, hair and bodily contact is not so constant. (After that it probably increases, selectively, think about it). In any case, new issues emerge and they tend to be behavioural rather than the old basic reliables like head lice and worms, and yet (dammit) so much more baffling.

Try Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder for baffling. This disorder can hit kids entering the threshold of adolescence. It skews their life choices all over the place because, to stay focussed on anything, ADHD sufferers must take high risks to access the adrenaline they need to stay what is considered straight and normal. Otherwise their heads are like a box of crabs This level of risk taking behaviour in teenagers is quite terrifying to comprehend, let alone the aftermath to deal with, for the kids and as a parent.

So ... this week, while I was out at the inlet fishing, listening to the radio, a report came up. A study done by scientists at the University of Montreal and Harvard University has conclusively proved that children who have been diagnosed with ADHD (the operative word being 'diagnosed' here and haven't we all grown up with someone who is only ever on the ball when they are doing spun out things) have higher levels of organophosphates in their urine.

I've worked in the horticulture industry and have sold this stuff to people who tell me "Just give me whatever it takes to kill the bastards". Organophosphates work as an effective pesticide. This report focussed on the organophosphates that I know well: Malathion and a few other other nasties that folks use to get rid of fruit fly in Western Australia. This compound doesn't block the spiracles of insects - it goes for the nervous system. The nervous system of insects is eerily the same to that of humans. This is why people get freaked out about organophosphates. The writers of the report on ADHD kids think that the link is all about washing your fruit of these pesticides (really, really well) before you eat it.

They didn't mention head lice treatment. I didn't even think about it myself 'til I thought about those little brown bottles we used to get for free from the Health Department ... and the fact that the skin on our scalps is the most porous and absorbent skin in our whole body. I've been pouring this stuff over my own and my kid's heads for years.

So today, in the chemist shop, I thought I'd try the pharmacist out.
"See this KP24? It says it's active ingredient is Maldison. Is this an organophosphate?"
He went to the computer. And five minutes later, he told me, "Yes, it is."
I told him about the report. He went away looking thoughtful.

I hope he will follow this one up.

I got the meds for my kid's ADHD from him. Again. To keep our lives drama-free and achievable because, these days we have bigger and more dramatic things to contend than mere head lice.


  1. A psyche who I respect told me recently that ADHD was one of the oldest diagnosed diseases and was described by Socrates as 'the wriggles'.

    He also told me that dexamphetamines have been prescribed since 1895 and is one of the most studied drugs (and its long-term effects) in history.

    Who woulda thunk it?

  2. Sorry, here is the link to an article about this latest report. I forgot to attach it.

  3. Old hippy wymin from Denmark, yep they sure know their stuff, even the bearded Basil Schur can tell you a thing or two, but the image of you out in your boat, listening to discussions on organophosphates in urine had me in stitches...

    Yep, but on worms and lice, I had always been jealous of the dreadlock types. With all their hair...and lice, i thought it'd be a small price to pay... But I changed my mind, for I once heard a yarn on the ABC, i think, about a dreadlock type with lice. The itch was so bad and he had scratched so hard that he had lacerated his head, and living rough, maybe he was blind to the possibility, but, after a while came the shock revelation that it was not lice that had since moved beneath his dreadlocks when the lice had vacated. The lice upped and moved, leaving m.....s moving, festering in the wound in the damaged skin beneath his dreadlocks, the perfect incubator...poor fellow, the horror of it... I'll settle for worms any day...

  4. I think this is spot on Sarah, chemicals are so endemic in our way of life and so many contradictory things happen around that. Like people I have met who buy and grow organic food, are vegos, and then pump so much resin from marijuanana into their lungs for one and drive smelly oil-burning cars. And another who was doing permaculture 10 years before anyone elee knew about it, but who, when I visited one day, was washing her chooks in Malawash, which yep, is malathion. At least she was wearing gloves.

    But THIS is the worst....when Robin's mum died we inherited an old bottle of malathion, one whiff of it gave me a headache and confirmed what it was. I was adamant that we would dispose of it responsibly so went to both Albany and Denmark tips to do so, telling the tip-master what we had. Both turned me away, saying they had no facility for it. I even went to to the Baker's Junction tip on a rumor (from one of the tip-masters) that they had some way of disposing of it. Oh, kind of - a guy comes down once a month to get this stuff, so I asked if I could leave it there till then. A resounding 'no, we don't have the storage facilities'. So I said to him, basically people just chuck this stuff down the sink' No comment.

  5. Hey Sarah, I had this idea of you breaking your back pulling in nets full of fish, not lazing with your feet in the water listening to the ABC. Phsshhh, just goes to show how much I know about you fisher-folk. Next you will be telling me you have a bar-fridge out there and you have it stocked with Little Creatures Pale Ale...

  6. I'm not only breaking my back hauling nets McCabe! I'm also philosophising about the nature of the world and simultaneously solving all of its problems. It's a big job! (opening the bar fridge) Give me a break!

  7. Not that I am against bar fridges... I had a small gas one in my kombi... but it makes me wonder what beverages nourish our fisherfolk especially when knowing that they get up at the break of dawn to work in all types of weather. I mean did or do fisher-folk when fishing drink the dram or tea (or both)? I guess modern work agreements would outlaw the practice, but rum and you fisherfolk have a certain history (I mean how else do you explain Orkney Island or Scottish/Irish fishermen seeing and taking naked selky seal-women for brides from the cold rocks if not for the occassional wee bit of the dram)... Actually, you would know of course that Percy Blythe Shelly...and I think Dylan Thomas drank Absinthe to increase their muse (as others did whisky...) And Dylan Thomas was a bard and a good one too. My point is I bet there is more than just tea or coffee in that flask of yours... all this fishing and philosophising about the nature of the world must leave you with the occassional need to drink more than just the occassional cup of mint tea or black coffee?? :)

  8. I seem to remember a shot of whiskey in the tea was of both worlds.

  9. Goddammit, this is a SERIOUS post guys! It's about the link between ADHD and the head lice treament given out by the Health Department. Why are we talking about rum and beer and whiskey? Any Fisher-she worth her Salt knows Stones Green Ginger Wine is the bomb.

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  11. Well I DID make a serious comment, but everyone preferred talking about alcohol instead....:/
    I read the article, may explain the behaviour of a lot of my students.

  12. It ain't alcohol...the wee dram is the substance that went and continues to flow, right through the heart of many a Celt and their poets... As this blogging business is about encouraging the muse within, is there anything more important than talking about what substances sustain the muse? Actually, on the subject of Stones Green Ginger wine and Whisky in a jar, I mean tea, is there any truth in fisher-folk aiding a sore throat through sucking that lozenger "fishermen's friends"?

    "Fisherman's Friend is a brand of strong menthol lozenges produced in Fleetwood, Lancashire, England. Fisherman's Friend was originally developed by a young pharmacist named James Lofthouse in 1865 to relieve various respiratory problems suffered by fishermen working in the extreme conditions of the Icelandic deep-sea fishing grounds" (see internet

    What do you fisher-folk take for a sore throat? Do you feast on fisherman's friends or Echinacea? And about the link between ADHD and the head lice treament given out by the Health Department I reckon the odd drop of Drambuie could be a cure for it... Why do we rely on chemicals?? I think that medicinal drink from Skye could cure anything...and if you drank enough of it, you wouldn't even feel the buggers biting!!