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Parasites and our new normal

Monday, April 5, 2010

When it came to parasites, my 'old normal' used to be: Don't have any.

When this standard was not met, the course of action was: Get rid of the parasites.

Following treatment, everything would return to normal, as in, No Parasites.

Not that I had all that many opportunities to put it all into practice. Really, it was just the 150 times or so that I got scabies during my Latin American travels, proving nothing more than that I am the most susceptible person in the entire world to the itchiest problem in the entire world. And that having to regularly trek through little mountain villages looking for a seƱora I could pay to boil all of my clothes is a great way to get off the beaten path.

But here in Macondo, things are different. As with bedtimes and organic food, living here means we have had to accept a new normal for parasites, too (I was going to write 'embrace', but I'm not exactly 'embracing' my parasites, no.)

Example 1: Intestinal Parasites

Apparently, 95% of the population here has intestinal parasites. Presumably, that means me and my family too. So the idea is not to eradicate the parasites and thus be free of the buggers (impossible!). The idea is not even to do the less-than-pleasant analysis that could confirm their presence (collecting and scooping your poo into jars with those little plastic forky spoon things for 10 days), because, well, it is less than pleasant, but it also gives a lot of false negatives, so even if they tell you you're clean, you don't believe them, since 95% means your chances are pretty damn good, and false negatives are common.

Instead, it's all about keeping your parasite load at a manageable level. It is unclear to me exactly what is manageable and what is not, but somewhere in the middle is making sure that you're healthy, your kids are growing, you don't see things moving around in anyone's poo, but you're also not overdosing on anti-parasite medication that will strip you of your stomach lining and load you up with pharmaceutical toxins.

So, in terms of prevention, keeping things clean matters more here than it did in Canada. Clean as in CLEAN, not tidy. Clean as in more than just wiping surfaces. Clean as in using fingernail brushes for the kids after playing in the dirt, and mopping the floors with vinegar (and even bleach, sometimes). I know that clean is always good, but here it's even better. We can't possibly keep up with it, but we (sometimes) try.

And, every six months we do three days of de-parasitizing medication (pills for the grown-ups, liquid for the kiddies). We time it to coincide with our close family friends, so we can all get de-bugged together and not contaminate each other's efforts. We will stop when the kids are a little bigger, but we feel that their growth and nutrition is particularly important while they are small.

(This, and I give the kids homeopathic stuff to suck on when they are teething and choose not to give them all of the vaccinations that are officially recommended. Macondo is not exactly the easiest place to be all that coherent.)

Example 2: Head Lice

When the Monster was at daycare in Canada, he brought a note home with him one day notifying us that there had been a few kids with lice. The note explained how to check for and treat lice, and asked us to keep him at home if he did have lice until he was lice-free.

He didn't have any lice, so that was that.

Two years later, now in preschool in Argentina, we discovered one day that he had lice. We called our friends who were on their way over for a play-date, in case they wanted to cancel. Their pediatrician dad had a good laugh at our expense. Lice was definitely not play-date cancellation material.

His indications did not include any special treatment of our clothes, sheets, pillows or any of the hassle that I thought lice generally entailed.
Nah. Wash his hair. You can use one of the lice shampoos if you want. Then just make sure to comb his hair carefully with a nit comb every day for the next few weeks, and then keep doing it every once in a while, always.

We rinsed his hair in vinegar and combed out quite a few lice and eggs that first night. The next few days I kept combing, and kept finding less and less. Until I didn't find any more.

I still do it every few weeks (about six months later), but I haven't found any more lice. This doesn't say much other than that he is not terribly susceptible.

(I must say, I actually quite like this new activity. It is surprisingly satisfying, either finding a little critter and getting rid of it, or not finding anything and declaring him critter-free. And it makes me feel very Mama Mammal, grooming my young.)

Many kids and their teachers here have lice, meaning not that they are crawling with lice, which is the way it first sounded to my ears, but that they repeatedly get it and control it. Without huge expense, and in many cases, without using lots of chemicals. Keeping them out of school and expecting the total eradication of lice would be unproductive and totally impractical.

So, there you have our new normal when it comes to parasites: 
  • accept it
  • don't let it get out of hand
  • occasionally resort to some chemicals
I hope I haven't grossed anyone out.


Deborah said...

We've had a few run-ins with lice - always entertaining in our family where our three daughters all have long hair. We practise prevention - keeping their hair tied back at school, in plaits if there has been a recent lice notification, and lots of brushing. If we do end up with some (very easy at school when the kids work with their heads close together), I use a eucalyptus oil shampoo, which seems to knock the little wretches out, and then do a fine tooth comb, picking out the insects and dumping them in a bowl of water, and using my fingernails to get the eggs of their hair. Rinse and repeat for a couple of weeks, and the problem seems to be gone. It's time consuming, but not desperately so, but mostly, it means not using masses and masses of largely ineffective chemicals.

My scalp is feeling all itchy now...

Anonymous said...

Before I was a mom, I's say EWWWWWWW. But bow I'm shocked kids don't get more parasites. Their choices are often suspect and their hygeine is deplorable.

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