Nits: Parents warned of 'super lice' risk as children return to school

Nits: Head lice are a common problem when children go back to school. [Photo: Getty]

Nits and lice are an embarrassing and itchy problem common among school children.

Popularly known as “nits”, parents have their work cut out for them ridding kids of the pesky blood-sucking insects, which are easily spread by head-to-head contact.

Ahead of little ones going back to school next week after the summer holiday, parents are being warned of the rise of “super lice”, a super-resistant strain of nits, are the new norm.

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Almost all head lice (98%) are now resistant to common treatments, research by the Journal of Medical Entomology (JME) revealed.

While the research is not new, experts warn children returning to school is a risk factor for the spread of the parasitic pests.

“Schools are a risk factor for catching head lice due to the amount of children there are,” Dr Diana Gall, a representative of Doctor 4 U, tells Yahoo UK. “You may find that your child only gets head lice during term time, and this is because they’re in contact with far more children and so the risk is greater.”

She adds: “Children are more likely to catch head lice because of how closely they interact with each other. The close proximity of their heads when they play means it’s common for head lice to spread in children.”

“Going back to school may put your child at risk of catching head lice but there is no way of avoiding this. You won’t need to keep your child off school but you should treat head lice to minimise the spread and stop the itching and discomfort.”

But how do you go about getting rid of them?

What are nits?

Nits is often used as an umbrella term for a head lice problem.

Head lice are wingless grey-brown insects, the size of a sesame seed, which feed on human scalp blood. They lay white eggs, known as nits, on the scalp.

According to the British Association of Dermatologists The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) head lice are usually picked up by head-to-head contact; it takes about 30 seconds for a single louse to transfer from one scalp to another.

But even though it is less common sharing hats, combs or pillows can also spread them.

Head lice live only on humans and die in a day or two away from the human scalp. They cannot be caught from animals.

More than half of all 4 to 11 year-olds catch head lice every year, while symptoms often include an itchy scalp or feeling that your scalp is moving, some people don’t report any symptoms.

A close-up photo of a head louse [Photo: Getty]

How to treat nits

So what should parents be doing to get rid of head lice?

While super head lice are resistant to chemical treatments, Shamir Patel, founder of Chemist 4 U argues you needn’t worry – as one of the best ways to get rid of head lice is by a chemical-free process known as wet combing.

“The only DIY treatment I would recommend is conditioner and wet combing," he tells Yahoo UK.

"Head lice can be removed by applying plenty of any type of hair conditioner to dry hair and then combing to remove live lice and eggs.

Patel explains that the conditioner makes it hard for the lice to move and traps them in the teeth of the comb.

“It also detangles hair, making combing easier," he adds.

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The NHS advice says this method should be tried first.

It should take approximately 10 minutes to comb short hair, and 20 to 30 minutes for long, frizzy or curly hair.

The site advises to continue wet combing on days 1, 5, 9 and 13 to catch any newly hatched head lice before checking again that everyone's hair is free of lice on day 17.

If you’ve tried wet combing for 17 days and your child is still not nit-free, the NHS says you should ask a pharmacist for advice.

“They may recommend using medicated lotions and sprays,” the site explains.

“These kill head lice in all types of hair, and you can buy them from pharmacies, supermarkets or online.”

However, Gall warns some of these medications are likely to be ineffective against super head lice.

Previous research has found so-called super head lice have developed a resistance to pyrethrins and permethrins - the active ingredients in most remedies available in pharmacies.

“You can also use medicated lotions and sprays to kill the head lice but they won’t prevent a head lice infestation, and the lice may become resistant to these products,” adds Gall. “Super lice can’t be treated with regular treatments as they’re resistant.”

Therefore, if one treatment isn’t working, you should try switching it up.

“If head lice return you can try different products and they may need to be used again after a week to kill any newly hatched lice,” she says.

Last year, parents were warned there could be a big rise in head lice outbreaks in schools over the winter period.

A change in NHS England guidance means GPs are now routinely prevented from prescribing treatment for the parasites, causing the health charity Community Hygiene Concern to predict that low-income families could be hit hardest.