Annapolis Women Start Professional Lice Removal Service

Lice Happens featured in The Capital Gazette Newspaper in the Family Living Section By THERESA WINSLOW February 19, 2009 A lot of new businesses try to capitalize on the so-called “it” factor. Annapolis neighbors M.J. Eckert and Nan …A lot of new businesses try to capitalize on the so-called “it” factor.

Annapolis neighbors M.J. Eckert and Nancy Fields hope to cash in on the “ick” factor – and if everything goes right, they never want return customers.

Referrals, however, are another matter.

Eckert, who has 15 years of experience in nursing, and Fields have just opened Lice Happens. The business offers house calls for professional and confidential head lice removal. The idea is that parents who are either too embarrassed, too grossed out or too busy to deal with what can be a laborious and difficult treatment process will phone the women instead.

“Lice to meet you!” Eckert joked the other day as she extended a hand and talked about the enterprise. While a sense of humor doesn’t hurt, both women wanted to emphasize that they take the business very seriously.

“Nancy and I started Lice Happens to help overwhelmed parents get through a very disruptive situation,” Eckert said. “Lice Happens will come to your home, make the problem go away, and let you get back to your normal family life.”

She’s dealt with plenty of lice cases as a nurse, both in school and at summer camps, and Fields has been learning on the job. They’ve spent the past few weeks honing their skills by offering complimentary visits. The actual charge is $100 an hour.

“It’s totally confidential and discreet,” Eckert said. “We don’t come out in a van with lice (painted) on it. No one will know.”

What they do come with are magnifying goggles, special all-natural pesticide-free lice shampoo and special combs to remove lice eggs, which are called nits.

“If I’d had a resource like M.J.’s business, it’d be worth the price to pay,” said a Davidsonville parent who spent part of this past summer battling her children’s lice and wanted to remain anonymous. “When you’re a busy mom, you don’t have the luxury of time. I spent hours and hours and hours (removing lice and nits), when I could have picked up the phone and called.”

Lice Happens had its genesis in a call Fields got a few months ago from her sister in Columbia, asking for help in combatting her son’s lice. After she returned, Fields started talking about the experience with Eckert, since she knew of her nursing background, and the two cooked up the idea for the business.

Despite the fact that lice have nothing to do with uncleanliness, Eckert said there’s still quite a bit of stigma and shame associated with the bugs. Part of their business plan also includes giving informational seminars and educational presentations to impart the “facts of lice,” as the women refer to it.

Itch Niche

Someone actually gets lice from head-to-head contact, or by sharing combs or brushes, or lying on carpets, bedding or clothes used by a person who already has lice. That’s why, even with the professional removal services, people still have to wash all clothes and bedding in hot water, vacuum carpets (vacuum bags should be thrown out afterward), and bag-up items that can’t be laundered for a minimum of three days to make sure they don’t carry any lice, Eckert recommended.

“I think they probably have found a niche,” said Dr. Elizabeth Fronc, pediatric hospitalist at Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie. “It’s so labor intensive.”

Fronc said pediatricians typically recommend over-the-counter products like Nix as a first line of defense, but noted that some lice have developed a resistance to it. There’s also a more powerful prescription version of the product called Elimite.

But those don’t remove the need to carefully, painstakingly nitpick. And the thicker and longer the hair, the more time it’ll take.

That’s why Maureen Diaczok, program manager for school health services at the county Health Department, also said Eckert and Fields might be on to something. “Anything that helps parents remove head lice is probably a good thing,” she said.

Diaczok said the number of lice cases in county schools has remained fairly constant over the years. The “no-nit” policy is no longer in effect this year, however, which means students won’t have to miss as many days, she said.

Under the new policy, lice still have to be treated and students still have be examined in the health room, but as long as there are no live lice or any nits a quarter-inch from the scalp (indicating a new infestation), they’ll be let back in school, Diaczok said.

A Nit-Picking Afternoon

Lori (not her real name) has been too embarrassed to tell her friends the real reason she hasn’t been able to sleepover or let them style her locks. The 9-year-old has been struggling with head lice.

Her mother, Carolyn, thought she got rid of them herself four or five months ago, but they returned. The Annapolis parent, who didn’t want her full name used, wasn’t sure what to do next until she stumbled upon an item online that mentioned Lice Happens.

“(It’s been) pure miserable,” Carolyn said. “Pure miserable.”

On Monday, Carolyn and Lori were in Fields’ kitchen, with the girl watching a comedy video as her hair got shampooed and then picked-through while her mother watched the work. A white paper towel on the counter served as a visual indicator of the progress – the tiny specks were thousands of nits, and there were also a few lice.

Carolyn would be checked once Lori was done, with the entire process taking about 90 minutes. “I’m thrilled,” Carolyn said afterward. “They’re the bomb. They were so sweet and they didn’t make my daughter uncomfortable.”

Eckert and Fields both have full-time jobs, so lice removal is currently a sideline. They plan to train others to do the work as the business grows.

Eckert is an administrative assistant at Key School in Annapolis, and Fields is a quality analyst for a software company.

“I never would have envisioned starting a head lice removal service,” Fields said. “But I’ve always sought a feel-good job where I’m helping others and see the immediate benefit in terms of a smile and a sigh of relief.”

Watch our lice treatment video clip on The Capital Gazette’s Hometown Annapolis website.