By Ellen Widdup
London is in the grip of a major nit epidemic, with experts blaming the damp, warm weather and the growing resilience of head lice to conventional treatments.
At least 10 per cent of all schoolchildren in the capital have an infestation, new figures show, while studies suggest a quarter of all people affected are adults who have no regular contact with children, but pick up lice on crowded buses, trains and Tubes.
Ian Burgess, director of insect research and development at the Medical Entomology Centre in Cambridgeshire, and the UK’s leading parasitologist, said: “We have had lots of damp weather and our studies suggest this has caused a higher level of lice than normal.
“The weather has also meant more children indoors and in close contact which has increased the speed at which the infestation has spread.
“Currently our research suggests about 10 per cent of pupils in a school have nits, which in an average primary school is about 40 at any one time.
“Chances are this is also being passed on from these children to their siblings and even their parents, who in turn can pass it on to their colleagues at work and fellow commuters.
“Lice have also built up some resistance to treatments such as pesticides, so the incidence of lice has risen dramatically over the past few generations.”
Dee Wright, who runs The Hairforce in Primrose Hill, offering lice-busting treatments, says she has been inundated with calls from desperate families in recent months.
She has launched their Rapid Response Units, with specialists going to people’s homes to de-louse entire families.
“The current epidemic is great for business but horrendous for those affected,” said Ms Wright. “It can be extremely traumatic for children to be constantly re-infected.”
‘My daughter’s constant re-infection leaves her embarrassed and me in tears’
Jayne Laville spent hundreds of pounds on treatments for her daughter Megan, 10, who has had head lice on and off for two years.
The problem is plaguing pupils at Megan’s school, Wolsey Junior in Croydon, where Mrs Laville, 38, has become a parent governor and started a petition to insist something is done.
She has 490 signatures in support of her plan, which would see all pupils issued with a soap bar containing tea tree and neem oils, which she claims is the only product she has found to work effectively.
Her proposal is being considered by the school. It suggests parents choose a specific day and treat all pupils in one go in a bid to stop the constant re-infection. “I clear Megan’s head but then she comes home the next day full of them again,” said Mrs Laville, from New Addington.
“It’s making my life a misery and causing her pain and anxiety. I am not the only parent who has been in tears in the playground over this.
“Many people will not understand how horrendous it is to have a recurrent nit infestation but it impacts everything. Megan is missing too many days of school, she is embarrassed and suffering low self-esteem.”
The school declined to comment on the proposal but said it was “looking at all options” to tackle the outbreak.
Head lice can be difficult to spot. First look through the hair closely, particularly in the area behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.
If you still can’t see any lice, go through the hair with a “nit comb” —available from most chemists.
Comb the hair over a piece of white paper so it is easier to spot any lice as they fall out.
If head lice are present, you need to treat the problem as soon as possible as they reproduce quickly.
If your child has head lice, check everyone else in the family and treat everyone affected.
You can treat head lice using medicated lotions or sprays available over the counter at pharmacies and by wet-combing hair with a nit comb.