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Parents missing 97,120 days at work because of head lice

By Claire McNeilly

They may only be the size of a sesame seed, but these little blighters are becoming a huge problem.

Nits, nymphs, cooties, head lice — call them what you will, but these six-legged creatures ultimately spell havoc in schools and households.

According to new research, these lousy insects — or pediculosis humanus capitis, to give them their proper name — are costing the Northern Ireland economy a whooping £8.6m a year.

A new survey also shows that parents here are taking 97,120 days off work, while children lose 62,327 days from school as a result of the problem.

The report by Ipsos Mori revealed that 48,693 kids in the province miss classes because of lice infestations.

With children back at school after the summer holidays, parents are being warned to address the problem.

A nationwide survey of parents found that 36% of UK children under 16, a total of 4.06million, have experienced an average of 7.3 head lice infestations over the last three years.

In Northern Ireland the average figure is 3.3, but this rises to 48% for children of primary school age (four to 11), and by the time children reach the age of seven, over half (57%) will have been treated for lice seven times.

Indeed, 8% of Northern Ireland parents even claim to have caught lice from their own children.

The survey findings suggest a lack of awareness and understanding of head lice infestations, an erratic approach to checking for lice, and the failure of treatments. This is often because parents don’t follow instructions or because marketing suggests that one quick application of a product is enough to do the trick.

Parents are failing to check their offspring’s heads regularly for head lice, leaving infestations unnoticed and allowing blood-hungry lice to colonise their children’s schoolmates.

Just 22% of parents in Northern Ireland said they check once a week, rising to 50% for parents of children aged four to seven. A further 9% say they only check when they notice the child scratching its head, and 7% need the motivation of a school letter with a lice warning.

Facts on head lice

1 Head lice are parasitic insects that live in the hair and scalp of humans.

2 They develop in three forms: nits, nymphs, and adults.

3 The scientific name for a head louse is Pediculosis humanus capitis.

4 Nits hatch into nymphs; nymphs are immature adult head lice; nymphs mature into adults seven days after hatching.

5 Adult lice can live up to 30 days on a person’s head.

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