A young girl with her head in her hands surrounded by illustrations of nits and lice

When nits happen…

By Editor Catherine O’Dolan

Posted on the Junior website 21st September 2010

They’re the bane of primary school, so how do you get rid of them? Read our essential facts of lice:

What are head lice? Lice are small, wingless, greyish-white insects with flattened, elongated bodies and oval heads. They are about 1/16 to 1/8 inch long.

Where can they be found? Head lice spend their entire lifespan in our hair, clinging tightly onto it as soon as they emerge from their eggs. They tend to stay close to our scalps so they can feed directly from our blood; they cannot survive for long once they have been removed from the head.

How do you get headlice? Head lice are very good at moving from one host to another during head-to-head contact. When your hair is touching someone else’s, even for a few moments, there is an opportunity for head lice to migrate. This is why they are so prevalent amongst primary school children.

How can you detect it? Often there is no sign of infestation until nits – hatched empty egg cases – start to become visible as they grow out in the hair. Not everyone itches. It’s best to use a fine-tooth nit comb, like the Nitty Gritty nit comb, to do a careful visual check for nits, eggs and head lice once or twice a week. The best time to do this wet-combing is when you wash and condition the hair, as in dry hair they will move rapidly away from the area being examined. Detection will be easiest with conditioner on the hair, as this will immobilise the lice. Section the hair and comb from the scalp downwards. After each stroke, check the teeth of the nit comb for live lice. Fully grown head lice are about the size of a small ant, but newly hatched eggs can be as small as a pinhead. If you inspect on dry hair make sure you do so in good light – by a window or under a desk lamp is ideal. Also look for eggs glued to the roots of the hair very close to the scalp. If you find any eggs or nits attached to the hair, then check all family members and use a nit comb to treat everyone who has lice, nits or eggs in their hair.

What is the difference between nits and eggs? ‘Live’ head louse eggs are each glued to an individual hair strand as soon as they are laid. Nits are the empty egg cases, which remain glued in place on the hair as it grows out after the nymph lice have hatched. Nits are often the first visible sign of a head lice infestation.

Where are the eggs found? Female head lice attach each egg to the root of an individual hair strand, very close to the scalp, so that when they hatch out, they are very close to their food source. Any eggs found more than about 1/2” from the scalp will be the nits, which remain glued to the hairshaft and grow out as our hair grows.

What do the eggs look like? They are about the size of a pin head, white to cream in colour and they look like a tiny, tiny teardrop securely fastened to the hair shaft.

All that wet-combing sounds like hard work. Are there any other alternative? You could visit The Hairforce, a swanky salon-style affair in London’s Regents Park. Here, the atmosphere is definitely more pampering hair salon than headlice removal service. Young clients are treated to bright mauve leather massage chairs, plus a choice of portable DVD player, magazines, children’s books and Nintendo DSs to distract and entertain while the serious business of combing with a nit comb and nit-picking is taking place.

Do they prefer clean or dirty hair? They’re not fussy, but it is easier for them to move freely around clean hair. They are tough, resourceful little creatures. You can’t wash them out, and there is no scientific evidence to indicate that either washing or not washing the hair will do anything to prevent an infestation.

Do they prefer boys or girls? As mothers, we feel that girls often spend more time than boys in head-to-head contact. Also they often have longer hair than boys, which can make it easier for head lice to move from one head to another. They don’t like testosterone, however, which is why is rare for fathers to have them.

Link to the article on Junior’s website: http://www.juniormagazine.co.uk/back-to-school/when-nits-happen/3664.html

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