Gone are the days when head lice were presumed to be exclusively the problem of dirty children and lower-class families. These days it is fairly common knowledge that this can be a common problem for all of us, not just children. These tiny bugs aren’t selective, they will infect anyone, but they can be treated.
What are head lice?
Head lice are small insects about the size of a pin head or a sesame seed. They have mouths like a very small needle which is used to drink the blood from the scalp of its host. They live or very close to the scalp, not wandering far down the hair shafts for very long. These tiny pests live only on people – you can’t catch them from animals.
Nits are the egg cases laid by the head lice which stick to the hair. They are smaller than a pin head and are pearly white. The nits will stick to the hair even after you get rid of the lice. These will either eventually grow out or will need to be removed manually, which is a very tedious job. Although some schools will not allow children to return until all evidence of head lice – including the nits – are gone, you only have head lice if you find a living, moving insect on your scalp.
Who gets head lice?
Anybody can get head lice. Although most people believe their children catch head lice from school, most infections come from close family and friends. People say that lice prefer clean, short hair where in fact, they don’t much care if hair is clean or dirty, short or long.
Lice move from one head to another, but only if the heads come in contact with each other for a minute or so. Lice can’t swim, fly or jump. The idea that they can jump comes from seeing them being flicked off a comb by static electricity when combing dry hair. It is possible that lice could move from one head to another if a hat is shared, but this is very unlikely.
If you catch one or two lice, they may breed and increase slowly in number. At this stage, most people don’t show symptoms. For the first three months there is usually no itch, after this period, the scalp may start to itch badly. This is due to an allergy, not the louse bites themselves which are quite painless.
How do I stop head lice?
Combing may help in spotting lice early and help to control them.
The best way to stop infection is for families to learn how to check their own heads. This way you can find the lice before they have a chance to breed. Regular wet combing will stop them spreading around the family.
The best way to check for head lice is through wet combing. This can also be used to get rid of head lice.
- Wash hair and dry with a towel – hair should be damp, not dripping.
- Apply conditioner. Make sure there is good lighting.
- Comb with an ordinary comb. Start with the nit comb (if you have one) touching the scalp at the skin of the scalp at the top of the head. Draw the comb carefully towards the ends of the hair.
- Look carefully at the teeth of the comb for any sign of moving lice.
- Do this over and over again from the top of the head to the edge of the hair in all directions, working around the head.
It can take 15 minutes to do this properly but is a very effective way to remove lice.
If there are head lice, you will find one or more on the teeth of the comb. They may be difficult to see because of the conditioner and it may help to wipe it off with a tissue and look for lice there.
Tell your family, close friends, and ayi so they can check their own heads. It is important to find out where you caught the head lice from to stop from being re-infected. Immediate family and friends are the most likely sources of infection.
Tips on how to use the lotion
Concentrate on covering the scalp.
You don’t need to put the lotion down long hair any further than where you would put a ponytail band. Keep the lotion out of eyes and off the face.
The first application will kill living lice but will not penetrate eggs – no treatment can do this effectively. The untreated eggs will hatch 5 – 7 days later. This is normal after any treatment.
Treat each affected person again a week later in the same way with the same lotion.
Never use lotions or shampoos ‘just in case’ – it causes resistance, is a waste and is unnecessary use of chemicals.