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Thursday 18 September 2014

Head lice an itchy breeder in children

Published 04/02/2014 | 05:42

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Since infestations of head lice remain a problem in several areas, parents need to be ever- vigilant with regard to the health of their children's hair.

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The Human Head Louse is a greyish or brownish, flattened, six-legged insect about 2mm long. It cannot fly or jump but it is a good runner and has strong grasping claws. It normally lives among head hairs holding on tightly to the shaft hairs.

The louse feeds on blood. To get a drink it pierces the skin of its victim with its mouth, secretes an anti-coagulant into the bite to stop the blood from clotting and sucks up the life-giving liquid. It digests its meal while clinging to a hair and excretes tiny, dry, dark red, almost blackish, specks of poo.

An adult needs to feed four or five times a day. If it gets separated from the head of its victim the louse dies from starvation in about 48 hours. The Human Head Louse lives its whole life on a person's scalp. The only other place it can survive is on pillow cases and hair brushes and anywhere else that a person's hair is likely to come in contact with within the 48 hour window of opportunity.

Head lice don't carry any known diseases and are relatively harmless though socially unacceptable. Repeated biting by an infestation of the insects causes the victim to scratch and finger nails can break the itchy skin resulting in secondary infections.

To make matters worse well-fed lice will quickly start to breed. Males are smaller and have pointed abdomens; females are larger and have rounded abdomens. They mate with each other on the victim's head and the females lay eggs called nits. Mothers lay every day and diligently cement their nits to the shafts of hairs.

Eggs hatch in one week and the young lice start to feed on their victim's blood and grow. They moult three times before becoming sexually mature at about two or three weeks old and starting the cycle all over again.

Studies show that the most common victims of the Human Head Louse are girls aged 4 to 14 years old with long, loose, clean hair and heads.

Head-to-head contact by children in school is how most kids pick up lice. Anti-louse shampoos kill the adults and wet-combing once a week removes any nits attached to hairs. Since the lice are common, vigilance and persistence are needed to prevent an infestation.

Wexford People

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