Lice Are Basically
Harmless, Says UK Report
They're annoying and persistent
and end up in the itchy scalps of countless schoolchildren every
year, but head lice are essentially harmless and chemical treatments
normally kill them, researchers said on Friday.
Despite their frequency, confusion
and misconceptions surround the sesame-seed size, six-legged parasites
that grasp hair strands and feed on human blood.
"It stems from a fundamental lack
of knowledge," said Ian Burgess, the director of Insect Research
and Development Ltd, a private consultancy firm in Cambridge,
There is also an emotional element
involved because many people are reluctant to deal with creepy
"The idea of creepy-crawlies on
your body is repugnant," Burgess added in an interview.
One of the leading misconceptions
about head lice is that it is possible to pick them up from inanimate
"This is a parasite that requires
frequent blood meals," said Burgess.
Head lice are spread by head-to-head
contact, usually by people who know each other well. Lice seen
on chairs, pillows or hats are dead and cannot infect anyone so
it is pointless to spray things like sheets or furniture.
Although most common in children,
adults can also get lice, which attach their eggs to hair shafts
and lay five to six a day. The bugs are usually found at the back
of the neck and behind the ears and are probably more common in
girls, who are more likely to have close contact during play.
Cutting hair, or tying it back,
does nothing to help get rid of lice, Beth Nash, a physician and
editor said in a review in the British Medical Journal.
She also warned that hatched eggshells,
or nits, may be confused with dandruff and said school policies,
such as banning children with nits, are ineffective because fewer
than 20 percent of children with nits will develop an infestation
within 14 days.
"Head lice are harmless. If detached
from their host they are vulnerable and effectively dead," she
A variety of products are available
to deal with lice, including chemical lotions, creams and shampoos.
Burgess said: "We need to improve
education for professionals and the public so that whatever we
do have to treat them is used efficiently and with the least exposure
and risk to the public."
Reference Source 89