I’ve gone back to uni this year. I’m taking some undergraduate genetics subjects (code for I feel very, very old sitting amongst a sea of 18-year-olds – appreciate the fact that they weren’t even born when I was last in a lecture hall).
Anyway, when the lecturer introduced the topic of ‘genetic resistance’ and said that head lice provides an excellent example, I quietly thought to myself “In this hall of 300 people, I reckon the only person who might know more about nits than me is the lecturer.” Because, like most parents, I’ve had my run-ins with head lice and nits (technically, lice are the live creatures and the nits are the eggs).
The insecticides we use to kill lice aren’t one hundred percent effective (and never were). And therein lies the problem. The lecturer noted “Lice treatments are a massive revenue booster for pharmaceutical companies. It’s almost a ‘planned obsolescence’.” – as a major contributor to the coffers of those pharmaceutical companies, I concur.
The guts of the lecture about why lice persist was this: when a child gets lice, parents treat the hair. Often, a few lice and/or nits are left, which is why a follow-up treatment a week later is required. Usually, the same product is used (because it’s still sitting in the bathroom), but unfortunately the lice that survived the first round usually survive the second treatment of the same product and become SUPER-LICE (in other words, highly resistant). Super-lice then move from one head to the next and when the parent of the next lucky child pulls out a nit treatment, the super-lice just laugh amongst themselves* and chant “Resistance, baby, resistance!”
So here’s the key to controlling lice: change products between the first and second treatments, making sure you select products with different active ingredients (the active ingredients are always written clearly on the box of any treatment and are usually long, insecticidey-sounding words). That way, whatever lice/nits are left because they are resistant to the first treatment, are more likely to be hit the second time with a different treatment.
Interestingly, the ‘natural’ enemy of human head lice is chrysanthemum and its extracts (that’s not a cue to whack your kids around the head with a bunch of chrysies). Most of the commercial lice treatments use these extracts.
The lecture reinforced what I had instinctively been doing to treat nits. Earlier this year I wrote a few nit tips, but it’s worth reiterating the key points:
1. Conditioner is not a nit treatment (unless you’re prepared to comb your kid’s hair with a nit comb every day until they’re 21).
2. A change is as good as a holiday. The chemist has an aisle of nit treatments. Give that aisle a work-out. When nits visit us, I pull out my arsenal of treatments and carefully select my weapon. I change my ‘weapons’ regularly, keeping the nits on their toes. I’m like a nit-attacking version of Dan Ackroyd in Ghostbusters.
3. Be alert but not alarmed. Vigilance is the key but remember, nits don’t discriminate and there’s no need to feel embarrassed if your child has them.
4. How do you ‘do’? Boys with buzz cuts and girls with braids so tight that it makes your scalp hurt just looking at them usually belong to parents who are at the end of their nit rope. In all seriousness, nits move from head to head via direct contact so hair that is loose is the equivalent of a nit welcome mat.
*Note, my lecturer didn’t actually say that lice laugh amongst themselves – I’ve taken a bit of creative license.