By MADLEN DAVIES FOR MAILONLINE
• Video shows a mother combing millions of insects out of her daughter’s hair
• It is estimated the child had been suffering with head lice for months
• Experts say infestations can get so bad that ‘nests’ of lice are formed
• Warn not all lice cause itching, so people may not know they have them
• In cases like this, the hairs can become glued together so can’t be brushed
This video shows millions of parasites crawling through a child’s hair in what experts have described as an extreme case of head lice.
The clip, posted on YouTube, shows a mother struggling to run a fine-toothed nit comb through her daughter’s coarse locks, which appear to be filled with white and green creepy crawlies.
As the camera focuses on the comb, countless squirming lice are revealed.
Dr Alejandra Perotti, a lecturer at the University of Reading’s School of Biological Sciences, identified the infestation as head lice – and said she was shocked at the severity of it.
She told MailOnline: ‘They [infestations] are very common in the UK and in Europe, but not to this level.
‘I work in forensic sciences and these types of cases are found in cases of neglect of children or the elderly.
‘You also see it in cases of homeless people.’
Head lice, also known as pediculosis capitis, are tiny insects that live in human hair, which grow to the size of a sesame seed.
They feed by biting the scalp and feeding on blood.
The females lay eggs close to the root of the hair so they are kept warm by the scalp, and these hatch into more lice which breed and multiply.
Dr Perotti added that in bad cases such as this one, children often develop a condition called ‘plica polonica’ – where all the hairs get glued together and cannot brushed.
She said: ‘This child was almost in that condition.
‘To treat it you have to cut off all the hair. At this moment, they should remove all the hair, to remove the nits – combing and shampoo would not work.’
She added the nits are glued with cement to the hair by the mother louse, very close to the skin.
She continued: ‘So you have to cut the hair very short so the female lice don’t lay eggs.
‘Even if the child gets treatment, they will still get lice for about a year, as the old nits become visible.’
Dee Wright, founder of the Hairforce salons which offer a specialised ‘Lice Assassins’ service in various parts of the UK, agreed this case is on par with some of the more extreme cases she has faced in her salons.
She told MailOnline: ‘That looks very heavy. We see infestations of that nature.
‘We’ve even seen people with nests. That’s where you’ve got so many lice they’re clumping together.
‘They’re a big ball of lice fighting each other for survival.’
Ms Wright said given the lifespan and breeding capability of the female louse, it’s not hard to see how such extreme infestations occur.
She said: ‘The female only needs to lay once. She lives for 30 days lays up to 10 eggs a day.
‘So you can see how if you have 200 eggs hatching at one time, they grow up and mate, and you’re off. Things move quite quickly and you can be overrun.’
Often this happens because parents don’t check their children’s hair regularly, she added.
Ian Burgess, Director of the Medical Entomology Centre, in Cambridge, told MailOnline it was likely the child had been suffering with the lice for several months.
He said: ‘There must be 200-300 adults there, however the combing technique is odd, without any break or cleaning of the comb.
‘Strangely, the lice all seem to be stuck to the middle of the comb but I cannot work out why or how.
‘This kid would have caught lice in the normal way and then the numbers just grew unchecked because nobody did anything.
‘It would take a few months to get to this level. I’ve seen similar cases some with thousands of lice in the early days of testing products available in the UK, such as Hedrin, but not so much now.’
He added: ‘It should be treated in the normal way but often requires a longer course of treatment because it is easier to miss eggs or even the odd louse when applying treatment.’
Head lice cause a person’s scalp to itch as they are allergic to the lice.
However, not everyone is allergic – and the lack of itchiness can mean the head lice go undetected and continue to multiply.
People are embarrassed of the condition and so don’t seek help, so the infestation grows, she added.
Ms Wright added that the lice could be affecting the child’s health.
She said: ‘Lice carry bacteria, impetigo. When the feed, they inject their saliva. That contains an anticoagulant.
‘Low levels of this anticoagulant will bring on mild flu-like symptoms.
‘When we see children with bad infestations they are quite pale, quite quiet, not concentrating on schoolwork.
‘They might be socially ostracised because other children don’t want to play with them.’
Dr Perotti agreed that such extreme cases of head lice can lead to other health problems.
She said: ‘There are so many wounds on the skin, from the biting of the lice and the scratching. This means bacteria and fungus can colonise.
‘Because she is in a Latin American country, she might attract flies that lay their eggs.
‘This causes myiasis – flies lay an egg or lay a larva and the skin is colonised by the larva and it grows in the skin.’
Ms Wright recommended that combing is the best way of treating head lice, as they are resistant to many of the over-the-counter products.
‘They use the products in the hope they will work. If they don’t do the hard work of combing, getting the eggs out, it won’t work.
‘Often we see heavy infestations where the parents have been using products on a regular basis.’
She advised that the mother in the video was making mistakes in her attempts to treat the lice.
Parents should use a fine tooth comb on wet hair, and should clean the comb of lice after each brush.
She said: ‘The lady in the video was not cleaning her comb, lice will be dropping back into the hair and onto the floor and the seat, she’s probably going to catch it.
‘The hair wasn’t moist enough so she was tearing her daughter’s hair out.’