In Anchorage: Embarrassing bugs make for booming business

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Inside Alaska Regional Hospital, on the third floor of building D, just past the oncology office is a non-descript brown door that leads to an office with no windows. Outside is a sign that simply reads "The Alaska Lice Clinic."

Danni Hall, a Shepherd Certified head lice technician, recently opened a delousing clinic in Anchorage. She got the idea last year when one of her daughters came home from school with lice – again.

"There really is no cure," Hall said. "You just have to pull every single nit out."

For the 6-to-12 million children who are infested with lice each year across the country, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends over-the-counter shampoos to kill the lice, followed by a careful comb-out to remove the nits. But ask anyone who has ever dealt with lice and you'll know that the do-it-yourself treatments don't always work.

Nit-picking has become a brand enterprise, with the New York Times reporting that lice removal has become a multi-million dollar industry – right alongside parent-baby music classes and tutoring centers.

"The right way to do it is just comb, comb, comb, comb, comb," Hall said.

It's a pretty low-tech approach, involving a fine-toothed metal comb that Hall meticulous pulls through every strand of hair. Comb-outs can take two to four hours, and cost a few hundred dollars.

Hall says finding office space was difficult because there's such negative stigma attached to having lice. She says that secrecy often leads children to hiding their lice from their parents, which means the outbreak goes untreated and often spreads to other children.

"Once they're impregnated, they can just lay eggs forever," Hall said about the adult lice. "And they'll lay them [eggs] about twice a day, and usually about five at a time. They live for 30 days."

The Anchorage School District, quietly and as privately as possible, calls parents if students have lice. Live lice are an issue, nits are not.

"It's embarrassing, but it shouldn't be," said Kathy Bell, a nurse with ASD. "It's not because you're dirty that you have head lice. It's just you get head lice, sometimes."

After a parent has been told their child has lice, the student has to be checked by the nurse for live lice when they return to school. If there are only nits, the student can stay.

Hall's youngest daughter, Dylan, says her class had seven lice outbreaks last year.

"My friends don't really tell anybody about it," Dylan said. "Maybe they'll tell the teacher, or the nurse and their mom – maybe somebody like that, but they don't really talk to any of their friends about it."

Dylan recently had her hair combed out so her mother could demonstrate how to pull the nits out.

"A nymph will stick to it [the hair], and I'll feel a bump," Hall said while pulling the metal comb through a tiny section of hair. "So then I have to remove it all the way out, and I usually just drop it to the floor. They're essentially dead, and then you take the clean hair and move it all the way over."

Dylan says she watched movies during her last lice treatment.

"I did not really like it," Dylan said, in regards to having lice. "I did not like it."

Hall says she's only had a few customers so far, including a 10-month-old baby and a 14-year-old girl, who hid her lice for several months under a hoodie. She says she's prepared herself for some extreme cases involving neglect.

Hall adds that her method is safer because it's non-toxic and free of chemicals.

"My training enables me to examine each strand of hair and remove each nit, nymph and louse while avoiding these potential side effects," Hall said.

Hall's clinic is in Building D of Alaska Regional Hospital, in Suite 399. Her website includes prices and hours.

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