Stratford university offer head lice advice

Prof Sally Cutler (centre) and fellow panellists Joanna Ibarra (right) and Dee Wright (left)

Prof Sally Cutler (centre) and fellow panellists Joanna Ibarra (right) and Dee Wright (left) - Credit: Archant

Few like to talk about it but the chances are we’ve all had them crawling across our heads at one point or another.

A head louse

A head louse - Credit: Archant

According to NHS Choices, head lice are a common problem in children aged four to 11, with one in three UK youngsters likely to carry them at some point every year.

But with so many rumours and myths about treatment and prevention, academics at the University of East London (UEL) hosted an awareness event in Stratford last week to try to offer some sound advice for parents.

So what exactly is all the fuss about these six-legged wingless insects?

“Infection is going to be high up on the agenda,” said Professor Sally Cutler, an expert in medical microbiology at UEL, who organised the event. “And educational distractions.

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“How can a child that’s infested concentrate on what’s being taught in school, when all they want to do is scratch?

“There’s also the issue of social ostracisation. Nobody wants to play with the children who have head lice – who’s going to invite them over for tea?”

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The itching that comes with lice isn’t the result of a bite, but the build-up of natural human defences to chemicals found in lice saliva, which can take up to three months to develop.

Once in someone’s hair, lice can feed on the scalp up to six times a day, but it can be the eggs that pose the problem – pinhead-size and difficult to see.

“People are often embarrassed to talk about it,” added Prof Cutler. “If you ask anybody, they’re more than likely going to say ‘no’.

“It’s like an STI [sexually-transmitted infection]. You’re not going to open up and say ‘oh yeah, I’ve got chlamydia’.

“We need better education and a more co-ordinated approach to tackling the issue.”

Parents are advised to check children on a regular basis using a fine-toothed comb, with a tooth spacing of 0.2-0.3mm, on wet or conditioned hair.

Joanna Ibarra, programme adviser for bug-busting charity Community Hygeine Concern, and Dee Wright, founder of hair lice-tackling salon The Hairforce, also offered their own advice for parents.

Visit for more information on treatment and prevention.

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