Lice, the Flu, and Other Mayhem

Last summer we had our first encounter with lice. To be honest, for as much time as we spend in well-used public spaces, I’m surprised this didn’t happen earlier.

Then, this winter, we had our first family encounter with the flu. Without going to the local Patient First and getting tested, Austin and I cannot say with 100% certainty that’s what it was, but I’m not sure the last time we were knocked out sweating, shaking, and aching like that – if ever! The kids made it through better than we did, though we made it through better than most.

With a family of eight in a three-bedroom city home, combating the lice and flu breakouts initially felt overwhelming. I have found myself feeling the same when we had pneumonia, croup, and the stomach bug in the house. The kids have so much contact with each other, especially over winter. Additionally, all four boys sleep in the same room.

Here’s a few tidbits from our time on the stay-healthy-battle-lines:

Don’t panic. Whenever critters or germs strike; jump into whatever you can do proactively at the moment without envisioning the worst. When our eldest would drag the stomach bug home from school, I used to slide into a depressive state immediately and envision all six kids up all night. Never has this been the case in actuality.

Our ‘Terminator’ nit comb. If you are battling a lice outbreak, I recommend buying a good nit comb that you can sterilize after each use.

Use a professional nit comb. For lice removal, I highly recommend purchasing a professional nit comb. The plastic ones that usually come with lice shampoo are difficult to get through hair, are not thorough enough, and are nearly impossible to sterilize (ours melted). A metal, professional nit comb will save you much time and pain. These glide through hair easily and do a great job of catching eggs.

Sterilize. If someone is sick, I head straight to the bathroom for our toothbrushes (which all sit together in a holder), throw them into a kettle of water, and boil them (note: not all toothbrushes are created equal; some survive, some do not). I wash down the sinks, door handles, and light switches. Depending what we are battling, I do this multiple times a day. When dealing with lice, all hair ties, hairbrushes, and combs went into a kettle. I sterilized the hairbrushes daily. While managing colds, one of which had ended in pneumonia, we sterilized everything that was used to remove mucus. You can sterilize almost anything that fits into a stovetop kettle.

Wash laundry with hot water. Normally our washer is set to ‘tap cold,’ but when we are fighting off germs, lice, or ticks from a hike, everything gets set to hot. Hot water for the washer; extra dry on the dryer to kill the bugs.

Homemade saline solution.
1 cup water, boiled for sterilizing
1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir the salt into the water until it dissolves. When your solution returns to room temp, it is ready to use. This solution can be stored and used for up to 24 hours if refrigerated. Several drops can be placed in the nostril during winter colds to help drain sinuses and encourage loosening of mucus. It’s safe for kids and adults. We used this frequently when one of our kiddos had pneumonia.

Hot tea and honey. This is such a classic, but worth mentioning. I lived on steaming tea and raw honey while battling the flu. Though there were many uncomfortable aches throughout my body, the warm concoction at least helped my throat clear up and kept the coughing at bay so I could get a bit of feverish sleep.

Cool mist humidifiers. As soon as the fall air becomes dry and our heat is on, we use cool mist humidifiers to keep the humidity up in the bedrooms. This makes it easier to breath and reduces the spread of germs. We clean our humidifiers regularly with white vinegar.

More on humidity. Our house is heated via forced air, and in the deep, dark days of winter, it becomes very dry. To increase the humidity throughout our common living space, I sometimes hang wet laundry about the house. As the laundry drys, the humidity goes into our air. While in the kitchen, I often put a large kettle of water on the stove to boil and allow the steam to moisten our lower level. We also instruct the kids not to run the fan in the bathroom. When they complete their showers, we simply open the door and allow the humidity to escape into the hallway.

Oils. I am not the right person to talk to about essential oils, but there are two I have found useful in the recent past: lavender, for scaring off ticks, and tea tree oil for scaring off lice. I’m sure your local oil consultant can inform you on a host of other potential benefits from the use of oils.

Vaccinate. Some of us were vaccinated for the flu this year, but most of us were not. The most of us who weren’t got sicker than those who were. This seems like a no-brainer, however, after consulting my pediatrician, I still see an argument for not vaccinating individuals at low risk. Fighting off the flu naturally can provide your body with a resistance to that strain for much longer (years, even) than a vaccine will. Given all the strains out there and the possibility that you could contract the flu and be fighting off something else simultaneously, leaving you really weak and at risk for possible death…this is obviously not recommended by the health community. Each to his own. The jury is out if we will vaccinate next year or not, but I’m certainly not opposed.

The spinach base for our morning smoothie routine. We also love to add carrot juice, avocados, frozen strawberries, and other fruit juices.

Be proactive about nutrition. Our family eats well and exercises regularly. Still, one winter we had so many problems with the stomach bug, I needed change. Granted, some winters simply are worse than others. Weary of it, I decided it was time for us to introduce a daily routine of vitamins. The trouble was, I didn’t know where to start. The ‘natural’ vitamins seemed so expensive, and I figured we could probably eat better instead. I introduced a breakfast smoothie that we now drink regularly year-round. We vary the ingredients some, but spinach (lots!), avocado, and frozen strawberries are used frequently, blended with a fruit juice of choice. Additionally, I added a salad to our evening meal so we get an extra serving of veggies. The following winter went much better. Correlation does not equal causation, but I like our increased vegetable intake and am sticking with it.

Call in reinforcements. If you and/or your spouse go down too, it is helpful to call in reinforcements. Even if you can’t find someone to help within your house, perhaps a friend can bring a meal. I am always thankful for meal help.

Stay positive. Do your best to stay upbeat and keep the kids (and you) thinking happy thoughts. You may not be able to go out in public, but if weather permits, I like to get everyone out a bit to the backyard for some fresh air. Pray too – Creator God doesn’t like sickness any more than we do. He wants your family to be healthy!

Tea photo by David Mao on Unsplash.