The Lice Assassins – meet the nit-picking gang of ruthless killers who rid children of an evil invader

By Toby Walne

Interviewed for Mail on Sunday’s Health pages:

‘They are the lice assassins. Dressed to kill in Barbarella outfits they look more like Sixties sci-fi vamps than nit-pickers. Yet Dee Wright, 48, and her ten-strong team of bug-busters are wielding lethal combs to kill all head lice and nits.

The fancy dress costume is not just for show. It provides a foil to lure embarrassed families into The Hairforce salon in Primrose Hill, North London, where a grim chore is turned into a pleasure.

The firm opened two years ago and, thanks to an epidemic of a new breed of super lice, business is booming.

Head lice have adapted over the past decade and are now resistant to up to 80 per cent of over-the-counter cures. This is despite us spending £30 million a year on medication. There are now seven million near-indestructible lice in Britain infecting at least 72,000 school children every year.

This is why, despite wearing space-age outfits, the staff use only old-fashioned weapons in their fight – a comb, tweezers and a magnifying glass. ‘We don’t bother with ineffective chemicals but tackle each head meticulously, picking lice off one-by-one,’ says Dee.

Staff don white suits bearing the slogan ‘Comb to Kill’ and magnifying goggles in 90-minute sessions of attack. Then organic conditioner is rubbed into the scalp and the assistants meticulously part the hair with a nit comb before going over the scalp with a pair of tweezers, picking out the lice and nits.

Meanwhile, the customers lie in a funky purple treatment chair and read books, play computer games or watch films.

Three de-lousing services every four days are required to break up the breeding pattern of the lice, so at £30 a visit this adds up to a total bill of £90.

The Low-down on Lice

Contrary to popular myth, lice cannot jump or fly, yet a female needs only to mate once before fertilising her own eggs in a specially stored sperm sac. Once mature, a louse lays up to ten eggs a day during a one-month lifespan and can escape detection by crawling eight inches a minute. Lice are spread at school through play or sports when there is head-to-head contact and occasionally through shared brushes, clothing and headwear. Starting to itch yet? ‘Lice survive by sucking blood from the scalp,’ says Dee. ‘Itching comes from lice spit used to stop blood coagulating.’

What the Parasitologist Recommends

Ian Burgess is a parasitologist and director of the Medical Technology Entomology Centre in Shepreth, Hertfordshire, which advises the NHS on parasitic behaviours.
He says: ‘Although handpicking can be successful, it needs to be followed up with regular checks as bugs can return.’ He recommends medications that ‘shrink-wrap and asphyxiate’ the bugs, such as Dimeticone, used in Hedrin, or Silicone-based treatments such as Full Marks solution. He warns against traditional insecticides such as Permethrin and Phenothrin.

He adds: ‘Too many surgeries have recommended that combing is the best form of bug-busting treatment. Just like chemical treatments, this works only if carried through.’

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