Nits epidemic warning issued to parents as NHS axes head lice treatment

GPs have stopped prescribing products to treat head lice.

And parents are being told this could lead to an epidemic in schools.

A charity is warning GPs are being told to stop prescribing treatments.

It comes as part of efforts from health authorities to try and save £100m a year.

The Mirror reports that this is the first winter new NHS guidelines have been in place.

The itchy bugs will rapidly spread amongst students as cash-strapped families struggle with the cost of repeat treatment, the Community Hygiene Concern charity says.

What to do if your child has nits

Poorer families will be hardest hit by the cuts as they are forced to pay £13 for over-the-counter medicine.

Previously, the insecticide treatment cost the NHS £4.92.

What does the charity say?

Frances Fry, a spokeswoman for Community Hygiene Concern told the Observer: “Not everyone can afford to repeatedly buy head lice treatments, which are very, very expensive and can be ineffective.”

She added: “Children whose parents cannot afford the treatments will be victimised and bullied, and all the judgements and stigmas will return.”

And what about the NHS?

An NHS England spokesman said: “This will free up to £100m to reinvest in better mental health, cancer and A&E services.

“Clinical experts advise head lice can be safely and effectively treated by wet combing, with chemical treatment only recommended in exceptional circumstances.”

The news come as scientists say nits have developed a “high level” of resistance to some of the most popular treatments.

Research shows that, in at least 25 American states, lice have developed resistance to over-the-counter treatments still widely recommended by doctors and schools.

Doctor Kyong Yoon, of Southern Illinois University, said: “We are the first group to collect lice samples from a large number of populations across the United States.

“What we found was that 104 out of the 109 lice populations we tested had high levels of gene mutations, which have been linked to resistance to pyrethroids.”

What are nits?

Head lice sometimes can make your head feel:

  • itchy
  • like something is moving in your hair

The only way to be sure someone has head lice is by finding live lice or eggs. You can do this by combing their hair with a special fine-toothed comb (detection comb). You can buy these online or at pharmacies.

How to get rid of head lice

Treat head lice as soon as you spot them. You should check everyone in the house and treat them on the same day if they have head lice.

There’s no need to keep your child off school if they have head lice.

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Use lotion or spray to treat head lice

You can use medicated lotions and sprays that kill head lice in all types of hair, including afro hair. You can buy these from pharmacies, supermarkets or online.

Head lice should die within a day. Lotions and sprays come with a comb to remove dead lice and eggs.

Some treatments need to be repeated after a week to kill any newly hatched lice. Check the pack to see whether they’re OK for you or your child to use and how long they should be left in the hair.

If lotions or sprays don’t work, speak to your pharmacist about other treatments.

Some treatments aren’t recommended because they’re unlikely to work:

  • products containing permethrin
  • head lice “repellents”
  • electric combs for head lice
  • tree and plant oil treatments, such as tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil and lavender oil herbal remedies

If you don’t want to use chemicals

You can buy a special fine-toothed comb (detection comb) online or from pharmacies to remove head lice and nits.

There will be instructions on the pack to follow, but typically you:

  • use the comb on wet or dry hair – although it usually works best on wet hair with conditioner
  • comb the whole head of hair, from the roots to the ends
  • repeat every few days for 2 weeks

You can’t prevent head lice

There’s nothing you can do to prevent head lice. You can reduce the risk of lice spreading by avoiding head-to-head contact.

Don’t use medicated lotions and sprays to prevent head lice. This can irritate the scalp.

There’s no need for children to stay off school, or to wash laundry on a hot wash.