Deny it all you like, but if you're a parent, you'll have been there. Head lice.
We've been through the facts with a fine-tooth comb and only just scratched the surface… (With apologies for the lousy puns)
1. What are head lice?
Head lice are small, yellowish-white insects about the size of a sesame seed. It’s thought that at any one time, two million people in the UK are affected by them. They’re not dangerous and won’t spread disease, but can be frustrating to deal with. These bad boys are very easy to catch and have bugged humans ever since we’ve had hair. This is because they’re tough to get rid of – you need to remove all the lice and all the eggs to break an infestation. It’s not until recent times we’ve had medicated shampoos that will kill them completely. So, no more Mr Lice Guy? No, sadly they’re even becoming resistant to these chemicals, too.
2. OK, so what are nits?
Nits are the small eggshells left attached to your hair once the lice have hatched. The female louse lays up to 10 eggs a day, which take about eight or nine days to hatch. She’s a clever little creature, too, she only has to mate once and then keeps all the spare sperm in a container in her body to use when she lays her eggs. What a lice saver!
3. Where do they live?
They live in your hair, where its lice and warm, spending their entire lives up there (that’s about 30 days). As soon as they’ve hatched, they cling on tightly to your locks with special legs, and stay close to your scalp to feed. They’re not fussy and don’t care if your hair’s clean, dirty, short or long.
4. What are they doing up there?
Like tiny little vampires, head lice love to feast on your blood, and bite your scalp to feed. They couldn’t survive for long without it, and would die within 48 hours if removed from your hair.
5. How do you know if you’ve got them?
Here are the clues… If your scalp feels really itchy, that could be a sign you’ve caught them. Though not everyone gets an itchy scalp – it only happens in people who are allergic to head-lice saliva. Other signs can be a rash on the back of your neck, or the feeling something is moving in your hair. Although they’re tiny, if you look carefully, lice can be seen with the naked eye. It’s enough to make your skin crawl.
6. How do you catch them?
Head lice can’t jump or fly – they’re spread by direct head-to-head contact. They climb from one person’s hair to another’s – which is why kids huddled together at school are so prone. They’re fast, too – an adult louse can crawl 23cm a minute.
7. How do you get rid of them?
Once you’ve realised you’ve got head lice, you can get rid of them with lotions and shampoos from the chemist. One of the best ways to remove them, if you don’t like the thought of using chemicals, is by wet-combing the hair with a special fine-tooth comb, but it needs to be done regularly and can take a long time to do thoroughly. Everyone with head lice in your household should be treated in the same day. Yay, family fun!
8. Prevention’s better than cure!
We’re not nitpicking, but it pays to stay one step ahead! Mind you, stopping your family from getting head lice isn’t easy. Regular combing with a fine comb will help early detection. Also keeping long hair tied up stops lice from grabbing hold of stray hairs and climbing onboard.
Bet your head’s itching now… For more head lice fun, click here!