Wednesday 13 December 2017

Time to end the nit picking


It's when they start telling you how to achieve a "diagnosis" that you realise they've never been there. Take a fine-toothed comb to my kids any day of the week and you've got your "diagnosis" wiggling in front of you: a head louse.

We've had them since New Year's Day. I've just exterminated them from one head when I find them in another. Last night paranoia about my own "status" drove me into the bathroom in the middle of the night to scour my head.

It wasn't paranoia. I found two.

They're nothing new. They've been found on Egyptian mummies. But the difference between head lice now and in my childhood is that now they're an epidemic.

I know the media over-use the word "epidemic". But at this point, I think we need shocking. From what I hear, hundreds and probably thousands of families have head lice pretty much all the time.

That means hundreds or even thousands of women are spending much of their waking lives either dealing with lice or thinking about them. It's nearly always mammies who pick nits. I think I'm programmed by nature to do it. When my kids have them, I can think of very little else. For weeks after I've cleared them I search through my children's heads every time I get a chance. It's got to the point that they refuse to sit on my knee.


Make no mistake about it, head lice are a feminist issue. It's because women usually deal with them that the health authorities don't give a stuff. They even describe the problem as "self-limiting".

That's when the lice just say to each other, "Fancy a new head?", pack their bags and move. Yeah, sure.

The bugs don't "self-limit". Mammies limit them. Mammies who would rather be doing something better with their lives.

A group of nurses got together a few years ago to take action. Dealing with bugs shouldn't be left to parents on their own, they said. The fact that the schools had no authority to do anything about bugs meant they were "a playground for these parasites". They produced the "Bug Buster" programme, which is really just a good range of fine-toothed combs to be regularly used. My kids have done the programme once.

Once is no good. A full programme needs to be done at least once a year.

Even still if there's just one kid in the school who's left crawling with them, the whole school will get them.

So do you send the child home?

This is the really controversial issue. In the US there used to be a "no nits" policy in schools, but underprivileged kids missed school more than kids who were cared for. So they had to stop it. Now the kids can come back to school with a packet of a nit-busting lotion.

There's a national campaign to reverse this policy, with some parents calling it a recipe for "one massive infestation."


The companies who market the anti-lice lotions are making fortunes out of it, campaigners claim, and there's even a company called Hair Fairies which de-louses a head for 90 bucks.

In the UK, there used to be "nit nurses" who toured schools inspecting heads. This was stopped in the 1990s because it was said to stigmatise kids. There's a campaign to "bring back the nit nurse", supported by several MPs.

We have never had any school policies. We never had any dedicated nit nurses. Typically, we have left it all up to the parents. We just get on with it. That's Irish mammies for you.

With four children, I can't manage to comb out all the lice and pick out all the nits in one day so that they don't re-infect each other.

I have to use a lotion as a first step, and the only one that works for me is Full Marks. It costs ¤48 to treat us all twice, as recommended.

This week my autistic son got them and for him it was a huge trauma to have lotion applied, and be combed and picked at.

And if one of them gets lice in school today, I'll have to start all over again.

I can't cope.

Mammies of Ireland, put down your nit combs! Demand a national policy on nits in school.

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