Thursday 5 December 2019

Children and teens taking selfies is leading to surge in headlice outbreaks

Nit-picking: Parents of school pupils of all ages are being encouraged to check their hair
Nit-picking: Parents of school pupils of all ages are being encouraged to check their hair

Louise Walsh

Selfies and sharing mobile screens have contributed to a surge in outbreaks of headlice which are affecting children of all ages.

Traditionally the problem of 'nits' was most common in primary schools but they are now spreading to secondary schools and crèches.

Headlice specialist Sinead O'Brien has called for the return of the 'nit nurse' and the roll-out of education workshops to control the infestation of headlice in the hair of up to 60pc of children in national schools.

"There is a major infestation right now in our schools. Years ago, you may have seen breakouts at certain school times but in the last number of years, headlice cases have been consistent," she said.

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"Children are spending more time together on play dates, hugging, touching heads, taking selfies or looking into screens together. Headlice need head-to-head contact to be able to move from one host to another."

Ms O'Brien from Rush, Co Dublin, worked for a leading pharmaceutical company for eight years and trained pharmacy staff of best practice when it came to headlice.

She also worked for other headlice experts and is now setting up on her own after being approached by so many parents.

"In the 1980s, parents used to be terrified that their child would be sent home by the nit nurse and so checked their child's head religiously for head lice," she said.

"There were more strict rules and the child was sent home and not allowed back into school until they were treated. These days, parents are often too busy to check their children's heads and the head lice could be there for months before they are noticed as not everyone scratches.

"So the infestation rises and rises and passes on and on.

"It doesn't matter whether you are male or female, have dirty or clean or coloured hair, lice are parasites and all they need is a tiny strand of hair.

"Babies in crèches now have head lice. I get so many calls from crèches asking what to do," said the expert at Headlice Removers.

"It's also now a major problem in second-level schools where it wasn't before and again, it's down to selfies and looking into the same phones or screens."

Ms O'Brien wants the Government to roll out an education programme for teachers, parents and students themselves.

"There needs to be education given on detection, treatment and prevention," she said.

"It's imperative parents check their child's hair at least once a week to stop the cycle."

The Department for Education and Skills said: "This would be a matter for individual schools to address with parents/guardians rather than the department. The HSE also provides advice on the treatment of headlice."

Irish Independent

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