How to detect and tackle these troublesome creatures
Head lice are inveterate social levellers, affecting nursery and primary school children, their families and carers regardless of economic, health or educational status. The rising prevalence of head lice is of great concern, as is the fact that individual children catch them repeatedly during an outbreak.
“Head lice are small, six-legged wingless insects, pin-head size when they hatch, less than match head size when fully grown and grey/brown in colour. They are difficult to detect in dry hair even when the head is closely inspected. They very often cause itching, but this is not always the case, particularly when recently arrived on the head.” (Taken from the NHS leaflet The prevention and treatment of head lice).
The task of managing head lice usually falls to parents or carers, and they often look to schools and health providers for guidance and support. The promotion of a child-friendly, safe and effective approach is essential.
In 1988, the charity Community Hygiene Concern (CHC) initiated the Bug Busting programme to assist parents, schools and health care providers. CHC examines research on head lice for evidence of effectiveness, with a particular focus on practicality.
There are three National Bug Busting Days each year and the aim is to find all the head lice and zap them in one fell swoop. This stops them from circulating endlessly. Most cases show no obvious symptoms, but they are still contagious. Families need to know that you can have lice, and be passing them on, without any tell-tale itching. By using a “whole-school approach” teachers and parents can take informed action together on a pre-designated Bug Busting Day. Therefore, the hidden cases are diagnosed and treated at the same time as the obvious ones, stopping the lice from circulating.
At the heart of Bug Busting is the knowledge that co-ordinated detection of head lice saves effort. The charity discovered that wet detection, with a plastic fine-tooth comb, is better than checking dry hair by hand, and has pioneered the use of the Bug Buster comb and method, which are expressly designed and scientifically tested for accurate louse detection. Armed with Bug Buster combs and the easy-to-follow instructions on using them with ordinary shampoo and conditioner, parents can find the hidden cases and treat them at the same time as the obvious ones. However, it is always necessary to check again after treatment, because no treatment is guaranteed to kill all head lice and their eggs.
Joanna Ibarra represents the charity Community Hygiene Concern, who organise National Bug Busting Days in partnership with the Department of Health.
For further information about head lice, the Bug Buster comb and method and other bug busting resources visit:
Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 44: January/February 2010.