Effective ways to deal with head lice and nits
Parents fear to discover an infestation of their itchy menaces, but with the right approach you can prevent them in their tracks
“People aren’t treating an infestation in the earliest stages,” says Ian Burgess, the director of the Medical Entomology Centre at Cambridge, whose research is cited in the Nice guidelines for this persistent issue. “We quite often find individuals with hundreds and sometimes thousands of lice,” he says. Dee Wright, the owner of The Hairforce, a series of self-styled”lice assassins”, states: “If you check your child’s hair and find a whole lot of nits [eggs], you should be combing immediately, as opposed to waiting to spot a live one. It’s great to do a weekly check.”
Choose your weapon wisely.
Many of Britain’s bestselling nit combs are ineffective, says Burgess: “They’ve gaps so broad that lice and nits can slide through.” He advocates using a plastic detection comb. “It has to be rigid, and the front has to be squared, to grab the legs of the lice.” The Bug Buster Kit offered by the charity Community Hygiene Concern comprises these kinds of combs, with different sizes for lice and nits, and is available on the NHS (free for kids diagnosed with insects). “It is not going to be completed in five minutes,” says Burgess. “With thick or long hair, you will need to spend 20 to 30 minutes per session. If you have found a dozen and believe you have done a fantastic job, you probably haven’t — there will be at least another dozen hiding.”
Comb with caution
“Lice are movement-sensitive and scarper when you touch the hair,” warns Wright. Dividing the head into segments helps prevent missing any. Detangle the hair and use conditioner. Metal combs, particularly, can shred individual hairs, says Burgess. “We have even encounter pseudo nits, where the comb has peeled back small knots that look and feel like nits,” he says. “So if you are going to comb, you want to use a lubricant and do it carefully.”
Forget chemical pesticides
Burgess says that we’ve known about pesticide-resistant lice in the UK since 1995, yet chemical pesticide treatments continue to be sold — and frequently suggested by pharmacists and prescribed by physicians. “GPs are not listening,” he says. “It is hardly surprising there is a good deal of lice.”
Perform the long game
Silicone-based shampoo treatments, otherwise called natural pesticides, may effectively smother the lice, but a few of the dreaded nits can endure. “We looked at almost 1,895 case documents,” says Burgess. “Most of those who had infant lice appear after a remedy had them within the first week, but the longest instance was 13 days.” Either treat a week again or so later, or keep combing for a couple of weeks to catch any late hatchers.