Adults get lice too: one woman's story

Think lice is just a problem that only affects kids? Not true. One Toronto woman told CBC's Metro Morning a head-scratching story about how her head became host to 'a city' of lice.

When 'lice happens,' kids aren't always the culprit. Adults are often hosts too

Doctors couldn't explain why one Toronto woman's neck and eyebrows were itching. Then she awoke one night after feeling something in her hair. She shook her head over an empty bathtub and horrified to see lice tumble from her scalp. "It rained bugs," she said. "It just poured out of my hair." (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

We often think of head lice as a problem limited almost exclusively to school-aged kids.

​But one woman, a Toronto mother of two, shared her lice nightmare story Thursday on Metro Morning. You can listen to audio of her story here

Somewhat surprisingly, it appears she didn't pick up the head-itching parasite from her kids.

It all began with persistent itching. We'll let her pick up the story from there:

"It was about two and a half years ago that lice visited our house. I had had a really, really itchy neck and eyebrows for more than a month."

She visited her doctor and was referred to a dermatologist, who talked to her about her laundry detergent and a number of possible environmental factors to explain her itchy skin. It was recommended she switch to natural hair-care products. Lice was never considered as a possible source of the problem.

Head lice aren't just a problem that troubles school children. Adults can get lice too. (Shutterstock)

Not surprisingly, switching soaps didn't stop the itching. Instead it got worse.

"My shoulders, my eyebrows, were still super, super itchy. It got to the point where I couldn't sleep, it was so insanely itchy."

Here's where her tale takes on more of a horror-story feel. If you're squeamish, maybe stop reading.

'I pulled a bug out from behind my ears'

She awoke from sleep at 1 a.m. after feeling something move. In her hair.

"I felt something crawling. I reached back and I pulled a bug out from behind my ears."

Now completely terrified, she ran into the bathroom, held her head over the empty bathtub and shook it. The memory of what tumbled into the tub horrifies her still.

"It rained bugs," she said. "It just poured out of my hair."

"I was telling myself 'This could not possibly be, there's no way I could have lice.' I was so shocked and disgusted. I was screaming."

At this point her husband entered the bathroom. Seeing his wife hunched over the bathtub in the middle of the night, he assumed she was ill. She shook her head out again. "More bugs fell out of my hair," she said. 

His response? "That was [expletive] disgusting."

For work, she called in sick. For help, she called in the Lice Squad, a company that provides lice treatment and removal. She also kept her kids home, assuming they were the source.

Lice Squad started in Toronto with one location in 2002. Now it's a major franchise operation, with locations in more than 20 communities. 

The Lice Squad lady arrived and began to inspect the house and the head of each family member. 

The woman's daughter was lice-free but her son had a small amount of lice and eggs, which are called nits.

And our victim's head inspection?

"It was a city of lice living in my hair," she said.

The Lice Squad lady had some questions:

  • Do you go to a lot of movies? No.
  • Do you commute on the GO train? No.

Advice from the Lice Squad was that the woman's kids did not give her lice, but the other way round. 

That's when our victim turned her itchy head to the twice-monthly plane trips to visit her sick mother.

The Lice Squad lady's response? "Bingo."

"She said she sees so many adults who have lice and she said that lice are kind of everywhere. And while kids are more likely to get lice than their parents, it's not always the case that the kids give the parents the lice, it can be that the parents give the kids the lice."

And while being in the midst of a lice infestation was "horrendous" she said the treatments soon solved the problem.

Our victim now lives lice-free and despite the horrors of her lice infestation, her family life did return to normal.

"When it was over, it was back to normal life. Lice happens," she said.


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