Did lockdown reduce cases of head lice?

One of the big hopes coming out of lockdown was that head lice had been severely reduced or even eradicated by the reduction in socialising. If head lice are passed around when people get together then surely isolation makes that impossible and head lice have nowhere to go? Surely there are fewer head lice cases around post lockdown than before the pandemic hit?

What we all thought was happening with head lice

If you ask any parent about head lice during the pandemic and the lockdown most would speculate that head lice were having a hard time surviving it – surely with schools shut and everyone confined to their home that had to be the case. Schools were physically shut, with online learning in their place. Meeting people and the mixing of households was severely restricted to social bubbles.  

What’s actually been happening with head lice

Whilst adults had to abide by the rules this hasn’t been the case for children – over 99% of schools had reopened by September 2020 and pupil attendance was high from the outset. Additionally, from July 2020 children in Wales and Scotland under the age of 11 years no longer had to socially distance. So, children had close contact with each other either in social bubbles throughout or from going back to school, bringing head lice back into circulation.

Same old head lice product issue

Additionally, there would have been many cases circulating when the country first went into lockdown, many of which will not have been cleared. There would have been a combination of parents using head lice products to clear the infestation and finding those products have low levels of effectiveness and so the infestation persists; and those parents who struggled during the stress of the lockdown to also deal with head lice on top of everything else. The Hairforce, the UK’s nit and head lice clearing service say they have been clearing some very substantial infestations the other side of lockdown, ‘Some parents have been surprised by how out of control their child’s infestation has become coming out of lockdown, despite using a lot of product during that time’.

How often have people been buying head lice products in the last year?

This is backed up by a report by Which? who published a survey of parents of children under the age of 12 asking how many times their children got nits and head lice during the pandemic. To quote: ‘Our survey of 2,010 parents, carried out in June 2021, revealed that almost seven in 10 used a head lice treatment in the past year from June 2020 to June 2021.

‘We also asked them how many times their child or children caught head lice in that time – four in 10 said that it had been once or twice in the past year. A fifth of parents said that head lice had struck three or four times, while one in 10 said that their children go nits between five and six times’. Their survey also states that ‘Some 4% said that unfortunately their kids caught head lice more than six times, while a lucky one in four parents said their children hadn’t had head lice at all.’

The really interesting thing about the survey is that it shows that in a year where mixing was severely controlled kids still mixed and still got nits and head lice; and whilst the survey doesn’t explore the effectiveness of the head lice products, that issue is more than likely fuelling the continued presence in the household too.

Going back to school means more head lice

As children’s lives go back to normal and they mix more at school, after school, in the holidays, at parties and other social events head lice will be passed around. It is a social disease, so key to protection is to ensure your child’s hair is tied back and not social-able!

Staying on top of the head lice issue

Key to controlling the situation is regular checking. Don’t just casually look – instead put the hair into sections and nit comb section by section with some conditioner in the hair. This way if anything get’s in there you can get it out quickly and effectively. Another thing to realise is that the head lice products are not going to solve the infestation for you. You are going to have to nit comb with a long-toothed metal nit comb and get those eggs out of the hair, or they will hatch and the infestation will pick itself back up again.

Getting professional help

If you are struggling with a pandemic or post-pandemic infestation and need professional help then contact the Hairforce. Their network of nit and head lice removal clinics can sort it for you in 2 appointments, 7 days apart without the use of head lice products.

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