It makes most people's skin crawl, but Marnie Murray and Lisa Saul have built a business dealing with an uncomfortable health issue.
The duo are the bright minds behind Naughty Nits, a Williamsville-based lice-treatment center that just expanded with a second location, this one in suburban Rochester.
The company was founded in 2010 by Murray, a biologist; and Saul, a nurse from England, who have seven children between them.
"I went through it and it was a nightmare," Murray said. "I knew there had to be a better way to do it."
The company first offered a non-toxic organic treatment from England that had a nearly 100 percent efficacy rate. Two years ago, Naughty Nits switched to the AirAllé system, an FDA-approved medical device developed by University of Utah researchers that uses heat to dehydrate and kill both head lice and eggs in one treatment.
"It's like the icing on the cake. This kills 99 percent of the eggs, even if you can't see the tiny nits," Murray said.
All staff are trained and certified to use the device, with additional training on the process and the business. But it's not for everyone: It takes a special person to deal with lice, Murray says.
"We're always looking for people who are compassionate, kind, welcoming and make people feel comfortable," she said. "We have people who come in and are really embarrassed."
Business remains brisk - regardless of the season or the weather. Demand has pushed employment at the Buffalo site to 14, with individuals and families coming in for treatment between 12:30-9:30 six days a week.
At its first day open for business Wednesday, a staff of 10 at the Pittsford site treated about 10 families. The treatment, which costs $129, takes about two hours, during which time kids can watch a DVD while the parent relaxes and waits.
Though the cost may seem prohibitive, Murray said many people fail to take into account how much it will cost them to buy an over-the-counter treatment multiple times, plus the cost of missing work, school and other activities and the time it takes a lay person to fully comb through the head of family member.
"People discount their time," she said.
Murray said the company's success rate after helping thousands of families has also helped to dispel some myths about lice.
"They can't live off the body. Lice are a human parasite and have to have the warmth from your head. You're not going to find it living in your house," she said.
Translation: There's no need for excessive cleaning of bedding, stuffed animals and clothing.
Proximity makes a difference, however. If a child shares a bed with a friend or family member during a sleepover and their heads are touching, chances are good it will spread.
"We've had entire dorm rooms of girls come in - there could be 20 of them if they're all together all the time."
"It's all head-to-head contact and that's why you find it in families," Murray said. "There's definitely the accidental tourist on a hairbrush or a hat, but they've evolved to stay on the head and they do everything they can to stay on the head."
But that doesn't mean its guaranteed to spread: Murray has been around lice nearly nonstop for the past four years and she has never gotten it.
"They can't jump or fly so as technicians we don't get it," she said.