Parents are being warned there could be a big rise in head lice outbreaks in schools this winter. The health charity Community Hygiene Concern has predicted that low-income families will be hit hardest after a change in NHS England guidance, means GPs are now routinely prevented from prescribing any treatment for the parasites.
Transmission of head lice among toddlers and children is common and is often the result of close and frequent head or hair contact. Toys, furniture, carpets and clothing can all offer temporary habitats to lice that will jump on a child if the chance arises – offering head lice the opportunity to be transferred and to thrive.
But while schools and parents often talk about “head lice outbreaks” the reality is that humans have had head lice living on them for thousands of years. And they were so common in the past that almost every family was in possession of a special comb to remove and keep them under control or in low numbers.
Our ancestors produced these fine combs using different materials, including bone, wood and even cactus spines, to allow a minimum space between the teeth of the comb to remove lice. And as the majority of people in the community had head lice – not just infants – these combs were the main or only tools used to tease or brush the hair.
In fact in Poland in the 1600s, a hair style known as “plica polonica” or Polish plait, was quite fashionable. The style, which resembles a matted mass of hair, formed as the result of neglect – often combined with a severe head lice infestation – and would be sticky and moist.