Page last updated at 16:34 GMT, Monday, 12 October 2009 17:34 UK

How to spot those nasty nits


Health Correspondent Marie-Louise Connolly looks at the problem of head lice.

By Marie-Louise Connolly
BBC NI health correspondent

This week's Health Focus looks at the age old problem of head lice.

Years ago the "nit nurse" would have identified the problem, but now that role is diminished and parents must be more attentive.

Head lice are insects that live on the scalp and neck. They may make your head feel itchy - you may find this is worse behind your ears or on the back of your neck.

Anyone can get head lice, but they are most common in children aged four to 11. This may be because of their close contact with each other at school. Girls seem to be more likely to get them than boys.

You can only get head lice through head-to-head contact. They can't hop, fly or swim.


Signs of possible head lice infestation include nits stuck to the hairs as they grow out or pillows being dirtier due to louse droppings.

Head lice are hard to spot on the hair but you can remove and then identify them by combing them out. This is called detection combing.

You do this by combing the hair in sections using a special fine-toothed comb, available from pharmacies.

You will probably find it easier to comb the hair if it's wet and you apply a few teaspoons of olive oil or hair conditioner as head lice can move rapidly in dry hair.

It's important to comb the entire length of the hair from root to tip. After each stroke, check the comb for lice.

You can also comb hair over a piece of paper, a white tissue or a bowl of water, which you can then check for lice. It will probably take you about 10 to 15 minutes to comb a head.

Check every member of your household if you or your child has a confirmed infestation.

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