Through education and prevention, head lice clinic seeks to dispel myths

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Lice Knowing You's Janet Unitan checks for lice in the hair of her daughter Jules.When Tom Kobayashi’s wife, Karen, called him at work to say their daughter, Emili, had head lice, he wasn’t quite sure what to do or think.

“I was in panic mode, really,” he said. “I thought, ‘’What is that? I know it’s an insect.’ I didn’t have it, but the rest of my family had it. You feel like you did something wrong. I mean, we give our children baths every night.”

Going online to find a jumble of contradictory information and old wive’s tales, Kobayashi finally found the relief he sought for himself as well as his children through Lice Knowing You, a specialized clinic for treatment and education at 8225 S.W. Cirrus Drive.

“There’s so much misinformation on the web,” he said, “so it was so nice and comforting to come in. I came here and read their educational materials and came away with a much better understanding than what I found on the web.”

Founded by Nancy Gordon, a Mercer Island, Wash., resident, the Beaverton Lice Knowing You clinic opened in April 2011 to complement its first clinic in Southeast Portland, which opened in 2008. Helmed by Operations Manager Janet Kennedy Unitan, the eight-employee clinic focuses on getting families free of lice and nits (eggs), teaching schools and parents what to look for, demonstrating how to perform lice checks and offering a line of all-natural, pesticide-free lice detection removal and prevention products.

Unitan makes a point of clearing up the numerous misconceptions related to lice, the almost imperceptibly small parasites that cling to human hair with dogged tenacity, creating itching and discomfort in the process.

“Once you experience it, it really becomes an emotional and visceral experience,” she said. “You have a bug living on your head.”

One of the challenges related to the condition is proper detection. Lice spreads primarily through person-to-person contact — highly common among children playing in school and daycare — or through sharing a comb.

“Sixty percent of the population that has it does itch,” Unitan noted. A parent may or may not catch it. It’s the 40 percent that don’t itch and come in with a head full of lice that’s seemingly unbelievable (to parents).”

Unitan’s heard any number of crackpot cure theories, but stressed that a concentrated regimen of combing, diligent, but not obsessive laundering and carpet vacuuming, shampooing with non-toxic products and monitoring are the key elements in ridding households and their occupants of lice.

“Combing is really the key,” she said. “Lice hang on to hair shaft and survive through showers and swimming. Manual combing is what is actually getting (them) out.

“Many times people are really frustrated and spend a lot of money on all kinds of things. They can’t wait to tell everyone about what they did — apply mayonnaise, burn the sheets and go to Manzanita, whatever,” she said with an eye-rolling laugh.

Lice Knowing You offers head checks for $15 per person, while treatments, which typically take one to two hours, cost $95 per hour.

Head lice, which is distinctly different from the less common, but more stigma-fied, disease-carrying body lice, hasn’t reached epidemic levels. But modern child-rearing trends make it easier to spread.

“There are more children engaging in more activities,” such as camps and sports, Unitan said. “It’s an inherent behavior in children, who have a close sense of space. They’re out in nature, where they clank their heads together.”

A West Hills resident with two children aged 7 and 9, Unitan said the clinic works closely with local private schools to help prevent lice from spreading. It’s a different story, however, with public schools, where children with nits (lice eggs) are allowed to remain in the classroom. Only those with active bugs are sent home.

“Public schools have a more relaxed policy, because lice is not a (disease-spreading) vector,” she said. “It’s deemed a nuisance (that doesn’t require) checking classrooms,” she said. “They may do a blanket email, but they don’t allow dissemination of information.”

Despite the tendency to keep incidents of head lice under wraps, it’s important to share information with neighbors, friends and family members.

“Let your neighbors know,” Unitan said. “Many don’t. They keep it to themselves. All that does is perpetuate (further spreading).

“Through texting in the community and Facebook,” she said, “perhaps technology is allowing us to hear more about it.”

Check it out

What: Lice Knowing You, a Beaverton clinic devoted to treatment, prevention and education about head lice

Where: 8225 S.W. Cirrus Drive

Rates: $15 per-person head checks, treatments for $95 an hour

Call: 503-574-4824

For more information: Visit

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