They attack dirty hair, leap from head to head and can only be vanquished by cutting off afflicted locks.
These are just some of the myths surrounding the dastardly tikes otherwise known as head lice or, as most of us like to call them, ‘nits’.
So what is the truth about the bugs that seem to spread like wildfire in schools – and how do you get rid of them once and for all?
For National Bug Busting Day this June 15, here are some popular myths about the blighters and how to blitz ‘em:
Nits are the same as head lice
The terms ‘head lice’ and ‘nits’ are not, in fact, interchangeable. Head lice are tiny insects that live on the scalp and hair of humans by ‘hooking’ on with their claws – and nits are their empty eggshells. Very often, those little white nits can be mistaken for dandruff.
Head lice jump from head to head
Nope, head lice don’t spread by leaping like fleas from bonce to bonce – and neither do they fly or swim. In fact, if they fall off your head they will die within a day or two because they live by feeding on a person’s blood. Yeuch. They spread most commonly by crawling from one person’s hair to another through direct contact.
Only kids get head lice
Not true – anyone can get head lice although they are most common in children aged between four and 11. Being female, living in a household with four or more children and having long hair can increase risk.
Head lice like dirty hair
There is no evidence to suggest this is the case – nor, on the flipside, that lice have any particular preference for clean hair, either.
[Related feature: How to get rid of nits]
Itching is the first sign of head lice
Itching may take weeks to develop after lice first take hold – and some people never itch at all. Symptoms can include a rash behind the neck and ears, caused by a reaction to louse faces. But if you suspect head lice, the best way to check is by ‘wet combing’ hair.
Any comb will do to check for head lice
In fact, only wet combing – not dry combing – with a so-called ‘Bug Buster Kit’ has been clinically proven and is recommended by the NHS to work in detecting and getting rid of head lice. Soaking wet lice stay still, whereas dry ones scuttle away quickly from disturbance. And the choice of comb is crucial – rounded teeth can slip over lice, and the gap between teeth is vital. See below for details on how to get a kit.
Once you’ve Bug Busted twice, you’re clear
Always check for up to two weeks after a first treatment as it may kill the lice but not the eggs – and eggs can hatch many days later. Always treat lice twice, one week apart, and continue to check for more until a full fortnight is up.
Leave it to the school nurse to check for head lice
School nurses do not have time to undertake mass wet combing – and head lice move fast in dry hair when disturbed, so light infestations can often be missed. Be sure by going through the process rigorously at home.
More information: A Bug Buster Kit is available on prescription or for £8.30 plus P&P by mail order from Community Hygiene Concern