Lice, nits and nymphs: a true fairy tale!

If there is one thing that all parents of young children fear, it is that day when the schools notice the presence of lice in the classroom! Even with all the care that is taken, there are things that are almost impossible to avoid and having lice among school-age children is one of them. For us, parents, to be able to survive this plague, I leave here some important information and advice.

First and in order to better know how to act, it is good to know a few things about these little friends of the heads.

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Lice are animals that live exclusively on human heads (they do not infest pets, for example, nor do they spread throughout the body, not even the furriest!). There are other types of “bugs” that can live on body hair and in other specific areas, but they are not the same lice that inhabit our children’s heads (nor even our own heads).

They live their entire life cycle on a hairy head. They are unable to fly, jump and even walk nimbly on a flat surface. However, they are very fast to move in the hair (up to about 4mm / second). For this same reason, contamination always occurs through direct contact between hair and hair, or hair and objects that then come into contact with other hair.

For example, tight hugs and head-to-head kind of roleplays are some of the games that can lead to the direct transmission of the plague. Changing hats, indiscriminate use of other people’s combs, changing hair clips and hooks or sharing pillows/beds are examples of contamination by objects.

Lice do not transmit any kind of disease and only cause a lot of discomfort due to the itching. This itching is caused by an allergic reaction to your saliva, which is extremely irritating and is left by the lice with each new meal on our scalp. Well, lice feed exclusively on human blood! The itching may not appear early in the infestation, but it will eventually appear. It can also remain present after the definitive resolution of the infestation, precisely because it is an allergic reaction and is not exactly caused only by the presence of lice.

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To avoid other complications, children’s nails should be kept short and if necessary, cotton gloves can be used for sleeping to prevent the formation of wounds and infections on the scalp caused by scratching. It is a good time to go back to using baby shampoos, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic and soothing to the scalp.

Outside the head, lice survive less than 24 hours, dying quickly from dehydration. In general, lice live for about 1 month.
These bugs reproduce by eggs (nits) that are effectively attached to the hair. Depending on the hair colour, these, although smaller (less than 1mm), can be more easily identified, first because they do not escape and second because they look very well in dark hair. Nits are oval, elongated and range from white to a coffee-milk colour. They differ from “dandruff” in that they are firmly attached to the hair, is difficult to loosen or move. After laying eggs, nymphs (non-adult lice) are born between the 6th and 10th day. Nymphs reach reproductive capacity (laying eggs/nits) 9 to 12 days after birth. Each adult louse can place up to about 10 nits per day.

An adult louse measures up to about 3mm.

Detecting them early and taking immediate action is the most effective way to control this pest.
Over the years, countless ways and “methods” to solve this plague have appeared, but the truth is that since the mummies of Egypt until today, these insects have always known how to survive. The truth is that in a school context, re-infestation often occurs before the first wave is resolved. This is due to the life cycle and the hatching time of the eggs.

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Any and all treatments must / should be repeated between 7 to 14 days after the first application. Nits are very resistant and must be allowed to hatch in order to kill the lice that have been born, preferably before reaching adulthood. In our temperate climate, nits are placed between 3 to 5 mm from the scalp, so nits that are more than 1 cm from the scalp have already hatched (are empty) or have died and will not be born. Nits do not come loose after hatching, so it is possible to have nits in the hair (more than 1 cm from the scalp) and no active/present infestation. This is especially important for the most concerned mothers and fathers.

The only way to loosen the nits is by physical pressure, picking or using thin metal combs (results in straight hair better). These can take up to 6 months to disintegrate and loosen on their own.
All products that “promise” the elimination of lice, refer almost exclusively to live lice and nymphs (as) and are not exempt from contraindications or adverse effects. This is almost always due to the fact that our scalp is very permeable to chemicals and potentially reactive to all foreign substances since it is already reacting to lice saliva from the start.

For this same reason, and to make sense of the popular saying: “blacksmith’s house, wooden skewer”, here at home, the method of choice is electrocution. Yes, I’m serious! There are already several types of electric metal combs on the market that work with a low voltage (usually a 1.5v AA battery) and that are limited to electrocuting 6-legged friends. It is important for the hair to be very dry and untangled, and to pay special attention to the area close to the ears and the top of the neck, the rest is just to ensure that all the hair passes through the comb and that it runs through all the hair preferably quickly but effectively.

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In curly, or thicker hair, it may be necessary to make locks of hair in order to ensure that all hair passes through the comb. In thin and straight hair (blessed genetics here at home) it is quite fast. This is an effective way to control the infestation. However, as with all other methods, a single passage does not arrive, it is important to keep doing it over the days and as long as the school/classroom infestation lasts. It is not necessary every day, but if the infestation is active at school, it doesn’t hurt to do it every time you come home in order to prevent a new louse from spending the night laying new eggs and the infestation to remain active as well. in our home. Despite the higher initial investment, it still seems to be a good solution since it is a unique investment that can be used by all family members. The only care is to do a good cleaning of the comb between each use, removing all hair and / or impurities accumulated between the teeth of the comb. Wiping with an alcohol wipe can help.

Bed linen (mainly pillowcases) must be washed above 60ºC. At this temperature, both lice, nymphs and nits (eggs) are eliminated. More delicate objects such as hairpins or hair clips can be kept closed for more than 24 hours to ensure that they have no pets alive during the next use. Care must be taken to eliminate hair from all combs, brushes, hooks, hats, etc … in order to ensure that no eggs/nits will hatch in the meantime. Although uncomfortable, this type of pest does not require school eviction, and the school must be alerted so that the entire community can take due care of surveillance.