British Columbia·In Depth

Head lice removal companies: should you hire or nit-pick on your own?

Head lice removal companies in Metro Vancouver say business has never been better, but no data exists to prove lice outbreaks are any worse than normal.

Companies profiting, but no proof lice outbreaks are any worse as parents struggle to solve age-old problem

Lice 911's Jody Rohl looks for nits and lice. Rohl's company is one of several in Metro Vancouver that they are busier than ever. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

My head itched for weeks after I finally scraped the last bit of nit and louse out of my three children's heads. In fact my head is itchy now writing about it.

When we initially discovered the lice, days before the Christmas holidays began, it was instant full-meltdown. As a parent you don't really consider lice as something that happens to you until it does, so you are more or less completely unprepared to handle it.

Once we calmed down, we solved our lice infestation with the cheap, long and laborious route of combing the bugs and their eggs out of our children's hair every five days for two weeks with the help of the iPad and Netflix.

When lice come home to you, it raises a lot questions, most notably: are lice becoming more common?

It is nearly impossible to determine if lice outbreaks are more severe now than they were, say, ten years ago. That's because organizations like school boards, health authorities and even the B.C. Centre for Disease Control do not collect statistics for lice outbreaks because it is not a communicable disease.

But it turns out there are a growing number of companies across Metro Vancouver who are convinced the problem is growing and want to help — for a cost.

A frontal view of a head louse under a microscope. (Bioimaging Unit/Oxford Brookes University)

"We're very busy these days," said Darlene Miller who owns the Greater Vancouver Lice Clinic, which for $60 per hour, will comb through your child's hair repeatedly until the problem is eradicated, guaranteed.

"When we get two clear comb-outs in a 10-day period then we give a guarantee," said Miller, who's added an employee a year for each of the past six years.

Still, she agrees that it's hard to determine if her company has grown because there are more lice crawling between children or because she's better known.

"It's a little of both. People ... before didn't realize that there was help ... out there. This is a community issue and so if you have lice, people in your network have lice."

These sentiments are shared by Barbara Pattison who owns Lice 911 and also says she can't keep up with demand despite being open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, getting, on average, 20 calls a week.

Barbara Pattison, owner of Lice 911, says she can't keep up with demand from parents wanting help in dealing with lice outbreaks, even though there are easily-available, clear guidelines on how to eradicate the problem on your own. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

"I think a lot of people just struggle more with lice than they used to. Lice are more resistant to the product that we used to throw at it years ago."

'Nuisance gets parents excited'

"It's a nuisance issue that certainly gets parents excited," said Doug Strachan who speaks for the Surrey School District adding that he has not heard of any prevalence of lice outbreaks in Surrey schools this year.

"Yes, parents are overwhelmed," said Rebecca Crouch, a public health nurse with Vancouver Coastal Health. "We get calls from parents who say it's too much work and others who don't follow the instructions [to be successful]."

"It's a very time-consuming process to get rid of lice," she added.

After shelling out $35 multiple times for lice kits at her local pharmacy, Amanda Lefebvre turned to Pattison and Lice 911 to help with her six-year-old daughter who she says has had lice, "for months."

After spending $200 on lice kits to deal with the bugs in her daughter's hair, Amanda Lefebrve turned to Lice 911 to do it for her at $60an hour. "It was a screaming fit every time I had to comb out," she said. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

"I've probably spent like $200 on four different lice kits," she said.

She has booked appointments at Lice 911 every three days and says she is already seeing results. Each appointment lasts about an hour.

"It was a screaming fit every time I had to comb out and obviously I don't really know how to comb it out properly. I didn't even know you had to go in many different angles and directions to get them out. I was just going from up and down the hair."

School children do not need to stay home from school if they have lice or nits according to the Canadian Paediatric Society, although some are questioning that.

So nit-pick yourself or contract it out?

Doing it yourself is time consuming for sure. We laboured for two weeks to get it done, but I feel we're now better able to handle it for the next time if it does reoccur (please, no).

But time is a precious commodity for busy parents, so these companies would seem to offer a decent alternative. One thing is certain, lice like hair and without intervention, they aren't going anywhere.

About the Author

Chad Pawson is a CBC News reporter in Vancouver. You can contact him at

with files from Deborah Goble, Jesse Johnston, Glen Kugelstadt


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