SCHOOL is out for the summer, but that doesn't mean head lice are taking time off too.

After a day at the beach or playing with friends, the pests can suddenly be running rife in your child's hair – meaning bath times spent searching for them with a nit comb.

But with so many old wives' tales about nits, how they spread and how to treat them, how much do you really know about head lice?

We spoke to head lice expert Ian Burgess to help you separate the nit facts from fiction once and for all…

Myth 1: An outbreak of head lice is a sign of child neglect or poor hygiene

Fact: Head lice are not related to hygiene – anyone can catch and pass on head lice and they actually prefer cleaner hair, Ian from head lice shampoo company Hedrin explains.

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"Life is harder for head lice in unkept, unwashed, and greasy hair – although they can still survive," says Ian.

Myth 2: Once you find head lice you need to clean your entire house including all the bedding, towels and clothes

Fact: "No healthy head louse will willingly crawl off onto bedding, towels, or clothes. 

"Any head lice found on these surfaces is either sickly or has been knocked off accidentally," says Ian.   

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Once a louse is removed from its host (the head) it rapidly dehydrates and will die in about eight to 12 hours. 

So cleaning the house from top to bottom is unnecessary.

Myth 3: Head lice don’t bite

Fact: Much like mosquitoes and other blood feeding insects, head lice do bite.

"They have specially adapted mouthparts to pierce the skin and find blood capillaries to feed from," Ian says.

The lice inject saliva into the bite to stop the blood from clotting.

Some of their saliva gets left behind and this can trigger an immune reaction that causes itching for some people.

Myth 4: Nits and head lice are the same

Fact: Many people use 'head lice' and 'nits' interchangeably to describe the blood sucking parasite.

However, head lice are the tiny insects that live in hair.

Whereas, nits are the empty egg cases attached to hair that head lice hatch from, Ian says.

Myth 5: Head lice live on dogs and cats too

Fact: "Head lice can only live on human heads – they cannot live on animals," Ian explains.

Dogs and cats do have their own species of lice but in the UK, these lice are very rare.

Myth 6: Head lice jump or fly from one kid to the next

Fact: According to Ian head lice do not have wings and their legs stick out sideways so they can't jump or fly.

They spread from head to head through very close contact.

"If you see a jumping insect on someone, it could be a flea from a pet cat or dog, and fleas are completely different insects," he says.

Myth 7: Head lice are all microscopic and the same size

Fact: Head lice vary in size according to their stage of development. 

"Newly hatched head lice are about twice as big as the full stop at the end of this sentence. 

"Over the next ten days or so they grow through two more development stages until adult, when they are between 2.5 and 3mm long (roughly the same size as a sesame seed)," Ian says.

Myth 8: Head lice are always black in colour

Fact: Nope. They are usually translucent or a pale, greyish colour. 

"Some head lice have darker patches on their skin and most of the time they have a dark streak from the blood that fills their gut, which can be seen through their skin," Ian adds.

What causes head lice?

Children between the ages of six and 13 are most likely to pick up head lice because of how they socialise.

Children are likely to mix with more social groups than adults and get physically closer to those they do spend time with, increasing their chances of picking up head lice.

How do I treat head lice?

"Firstly, you need to check your child’s hair once a week using a plastic detection comb (with teeth no more than 0.3mm apart)," Ian says.

"If live head lice are found, buy treatment. Everyone in the household should be checked and then treated only if they have head lice.

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“Next, is to use a treatment, if live head lice are identified."

He adds: "A further check should be carried out a week after application, and you should repeat the treatment for a second time to kill any head lice that may have hatched from surviving eggs during that time."

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