As the kids pack their schoolbags and start a new term, sometimes they can come home with more than you bargained for! Head lice are tiny wingless insects which are a grey to brown in colour and are no bigger than the size of a pinhead when they first hatch. They grow quickly and are about 3mm long when fully grown. Contrary to popular belief they cannot fly, jump or swim! In fact the only way they can be passed from one person to another is by close head to head contact and they do prefer clean hair! They are most commonly found in school age children and are easily passed from head to head in this group because of the way children work and play at school.
The female head louse lays eggs on hair strands cementing them close to the scalp to keep warm. They hatch 7 to 10 days later leaving the empty eggshells behind. These empty shells can be more easily seen with the naked eye and are often referred to as nits. The lice feed by biting the scalp and sucking blood and become fully grown within 10 days. It is then at this stage they can then transfer from head to head. A female can lay eggs as early as 7 days after she has hatched and therefore it is important to remove the lice from the head by day 6 so as to break the lifecycle.
There are several methods for getting rid of head lice. A simple chemical free method is fine-combing. This involves separating wet hair into small sections and carefully combing through with a fine comb. This removes the adult lice – no more eggs can be laid and so the life-cycle is broken. Realistically this needs to be carried out every night for a week so that any adult lice are removed and no further eggs laid.
Traditionally a more intense chemical based treatment was popular. This involved the use of an insecticide which was applied directly to the hair, left overnight and then washed off in the morning. Initially these treatments were effective but there were concerns about the use of strong insecticides on children’s scalps. Overuse of these chemicals was also contributing to resistance to them by the head lice. In addition the strong chemicals plus overpowering smell often led to problems with asthma and eczema sufferers.
New products are now available which have none of the dangerous side-effects of the older treatments. Products such as Hedrin are not absorbed into the scalp and work by essentially smothering the head lice. Treatments are available in different formulations, some are left on for only 15 minutes (handy if you want to treat in a hurry) and others are left on for 8 hours then washed off along with the dead head lice! Both treatments should be repeated after 7 days to complete the course.
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