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'Lice brigade' inspects heads weekly
Insect a concern for parents, schools
The Gazette

Tiziana Rossi, a member of the parent-run "lice brigade" at Roslyn elementary, checks over daughter Audrey Lukban, 7, at the Westmount school, where students' heads are inspected every Friday. Researchers say strains of lice become resistant to treatment shampoos, which use pesticides.

For one tense moment, Tiziana Rossi sucked in her breath as she inspected a strand of her daughter's hair.

Rossi had noticed a few white specks on 7-year-old Audrey Lukban's dark tresses. She tapped at the specks with a wooden stick.

They fell off, and Rossi exhaled.

"She's fine. I panicked for a minute," Rossi recounted yesterday.

"The trick is: If you try to move it and it falls off, then it's dandruff or some fluff. If it does not fall off, it's the beast."

The beast, in this case, is the louse.

It's the tiny insect that can cause monstrous headaches for parents and schools.

At Roslyn elementary school in Westmount, Rossi and other members of the parent-run "lice brigade" check students' heads on Fridays to prevent the pest from spreading.

Although the Montreal regional health board doesn't keep statistics on head lice, nurses from two CLSCs said they've been swamped in the last two years with what seems to be a growing number of cases.

This year, a few schools have already reported three lice outbreaks since September.

"From my experience, it seems that there's more," said Pauline Martin, a nurse from the CLSC N.D.G./Montreal West who works at Willingdon School in Notre Dame de Grâce. "The lice seem to be resistant to the treatment."

Since the early 1990s, researchers have noted that strains of lice become resistant to treatment shampoos, which use pesticides.

On its Web site, the U.S.-based National Pediculosis Association says it receives daily calls from people "using 'everything on the drugstore shelf,' only to continue finding adult-sized crawling lice."

The association advocates removing lice and nits manually.

Three years ago, Roslyn parents decided to combat lice before they could spread. They set up a team of volunteers under the guidance of parent Nicole Laflamme Robinson - "the lice commander."

Each Friday, brigade volunteers visit the classrooms and check the heads of all the students. If a child is found to have lice, his or her parents have the weekend to remove them.

On Monday, when the afflicted student returns to school, a lice-brigade volunteer checks to ensure the treatment has worked.

Because all students are checked, the system removes the stigma often attached to lice.

"We speak openly about it," Laflamme Robinson said. "Anybody can get it. It has nothing to do with social class."

Since Audrey had a lice problem during the summer, Rossi said, she has appreciated the importance of checking heads.

"It really helps," she said. "Detection and prevention are much better than freaking out."

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