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Updated on May 3, 2013



In fact she was a State Registered Nurse who was employed to visit all schools in our town as the war against Germany ended and the war against common diseases gathered momentum. Older now, I understand that her duties were beyond the never ending battle against head bugs, important though that scrutiny was. The nurse was the harbinger of Social Services as we now know, liaising with teaching staff and keeping an eye out for signs of neglect and abuse.

In the 1940"s hygiene, though well advanced from the Victorian days of filth and stench was still a far cry from today. Some families did not have running water, baths or even indoor toilets. As a result children from poorer homes brought with them their diseases {and nits} to the classroom. No respecter of class, they spread across the whole spectrum and my mother was constantly checking that none had taken refuge in my hair. To have a child with nits carried a social stigma where we lived and was regarded as parental inefficiency.

As the years progressed and facilities , disinfectants and understanding of health and hygiene advanced, so came the demise of the "NITTY NELLY" system as the peripateic nurses were absorbed elsewhere. Fast forwarding to the 1960"s and 1970"s I cannot recall coming across one case of head lice, so easily identified by the incessant head scratching of the host. In those days my personal crusade was to rid my schools of foot disease such as Athletes Foot etc. 6 months weekly routines of sending all through a strategically placed bath in front of the changing room showers totally eradicated their presence, though vigilance had to be maintained.

So, it appeared to me then, and even up till now until recently that our hygiene advances had removed the nits in the hair from our children. How wrong could I be. Without "Nitty Nellies" on patrol, matters were left in the hands of parents and as I have advised in an earlier Hub, standards of parenting are becoming increasingly poor in too many stratas of our Society. Even so, I was astounded to learn recently that nits are back and in a big way. Apparently over 1 million children in the UK have them. Why that should have shocked me, I do not know, for I am well aware that poor parenting now means 1 in every 5 children in Primary School is clinically obese. Thus, it follows that other forms of damage to the human frame are sure to exist. Clearly, parents are aware of the problem because it is calculated that £30 million is spent annually in the private sector to eradicate the relentless march of legions of nits. It is clear that once a child has them, the parents rush to get rid of them but clearly preventative checks have long been abandoned and the classrooms have become fine breeding grounds for the sturdy nits once more.


The £30 million spent each year in the UK serves to highlight that dealing withh this problem is far from being solved with any degree of medical certainty. In fact, all treatments could be said to be dealing with the symptoms and not the cause. There seems as yet, no solution to obliterate totally the nits and their eggs and so, as one case is cleared another is incubating or in full flow elsewhere.

Given the above, the following "cures" follow the principle of removal of the immediate problem and to allow the long suffering patient, still usually a youg child, to be freed from the need to continually scratch at the scalp and hair in the search for relief. As will be seen, not only are the treatments vaunted diverse but some almost beggar belief but we are told that not only are they in common use but a few seemingly deal with the immediate problem.


The main weapon of the "NITTY NELLYS of yesteryear were always armed with a two sided bug comb that was scraped through the head and hair of each infant and then scrutinised for tiny signs of life. If there was, then much heavier and prolonged combing continued until finally none were to be seen. These combs, in modern form are still in the frontline of attack against both lice and eggs. Modern research says that combing should be for 30 minutes twice weekly whilst there is a hint of either eggs or lice. Old style plastic made combs with closely packed teeth are the best and recommended in front of modern electric versions. Ordinary bug combs are not expensive and do the best job with a bit of effort.


Strong chemicals designed to poison lice have been, and continue to be, available without medical precription. Some, like creme rinses massaged into the hair ,are not thought to be effective and up to 80% of lice in the UK are resistant to this form of treatment.

On the other hand a silicone based treatments massaged into the scalp and hair, again available over the counter ,is effective provided instructions are closely followed. Various brand names are available at most pharmacies.


As ever, local folk lore and stories exchanged at the nursery or school gate see mothers resorting to odd things in a search to get rid of the problem.

One of the most unusual, but very much a favourite in the USA in recent times involved smearing the afflicted head with Mayonnaise, Margarine or Olive Oil ! Left on overnight, the claim is that the lice become smothered by the substance and die. The medical view is that this does no harm but does no good either and is unlikely to work the oracle. as well as causing a fair amount of mess in the process.

Another treatment much vaunted by amateurs but dismissed by Medics is the use of the oil of the tea tree. Tea Tree Oil does have antiseptic ingredients within it and it is claimed that drops of it mixed in hair shampoo will attack the nervous systems of the lice and thus kill them.. Many follow this but there is little hard evidence to support it whilst overuse could cause scalp irritation. Indeed, professional sources believe that lice are now resistant to it.


As with anything that needs a cure to be found, lice eradication is a source for commecial expansion. Salons are now available where space age clad operatives use special hoovers to dehydrate and destroy lice eggs nestling in the hair undergrowth. This is effective treatment but at a price ! The cost is £100 initially with £50 follow up charges.

To me that is exorbitant but many mothers pay it to avoid the social stigma they feel abounds if one or more of their brood have nits. My advice is simple. Spend a small amount on a "Nitty Nelly"comb and use it on the kids weekly. A small outlay, some direct one to one contact between parent and child and a swift solution allowing Mum to hold her head up again at the school gates. I believe that is what those much trendier than I, call a "no brainer", these days


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