Just when everyone thought they had enough worries, here's a new one: tiny parasites living in your hair.
A national chain of lice clinics reported Thursday its Bakersfield operation experienced a 37 percent increase in treatments between April and May.
Lice Clinics of America said the jump in cases has probably been caused by family members who have had to shelter together in close quarters during the COVID-19 quarantine.
But it's unclear how widespread the increase is locally. Local medical offices including Stockdale Pediatrics said they had noticed no particular surge in cases recently.
A spokeswoman for the Kern County Public Health Services Department said the agency, too, was unaware of any increase in local lice cases.
She said head lice, though a "significant nuisance," don't transmit disease to humans. She also noted that the county doesn't require public reporting of an infestation of head lice.
A brochure issued by the California Department of Public Health says lice typically feed on the blood of school-age children. It estimates annual U.S. infestations at 6 million to 12 million per year.
Lice Clinics of America says traditional, over-the-counter lice treatments generally contain pesticides that are ineffective.
Kimberly Stellman, owner of Tiny Locks, a lice-removal service based in Southern California with a specialist who makes house calls in Bakersfield, said her business is relatively slow now because kids are out of school. But she wasn't all that surprised to hear of new infestations.
"The big difference I'm noticing now is it's affecting the whole family," she said. Instead of one to two people per household being affected, she added, it's become more typical that three or four people in the same home have lice.
"It's not spreading in a school setting, it's spreading in the home," she said.
While there are a number of private services that treat lice infestations with specialized equipment, the state health department says the best way to get rid of lice is to comb the hair of the affected person every day with a nit comb for two weeks.
It cautions that there's no evidence vinegar, mayonnaise or olive oil are effective lice treatments. It also notes that common, over-the-counter treatments may kill adult lice but not their eggs, which are known as nits.
The agency further recommends machine-washing in hot water and then drying at full heat all clothing, bedding and other materials the affected person has recently come into contacted with. Anything that cannot be washed that way should be placed in a sealed bag for two weeks, it said, to deprive the lice of blood so they die.
The state says another good idea is to vacuum carpets and furniture the affected person has come into contact with.