Headlice

Pediculus humanus capitis or headlice are insect pests, which live for around 30 days in human head hair but can be shorter with the treatments available. They are transmitted by personal contact with an infested person which are usually children in their clothing or bedding. The lice are gray and around 1-3mm in length, with six legs, each with hooks on the end, which allow them to cling onto the hair shafts. They survive in the hair by feeding on the human host's blood, piercing the scalp with sharp mouthparts and injecting saliva to prevent the blood from clotting.

Head lice or 'nit' infestation is generally harmless but the louses saliva can irritate the skin making it extremely itchy. If left untreated the numbers of lice will grow rapidly (each female louse can lay around three eggs per day) leading to severe infestation and skin irritation that can then be susceptible to bacterial infections. Head lice infestations are notoriously difficult to treat. Chemical shampoos are available which kill the lice and eggs.

However, these are expensive and in recent years most head lice are now becoming resilient to this form of treatment. The most effective method to date is 'wet coming'. The hair is wetted and conditioner is then combed throughout the hair. The conditioner prevents the head lice griping to the hair allowing them and the eggs to be removed using a specific head lice removal comb. The wet combing should be repeated daily over the next 7-10 days to prevent re infestation by lice hatching from eggs missed on the first treatment.

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