Chances are, when you were young, you were either sent home from school with a letter about a lice outbreak or had it yourself.
Lice are small wingless insects that look sort of like grey sesame seeds with legs. Lice infect human hair in order to suck blood from the scalp, and lay eggs (called nits) within it. Lice don’t carry or cause disease, but they can be itchy and uncomfortable — and nobody likes the idea of bugs laying eggs on their head.
But contrary to many of the stereotypes about the insect, it doesn’t say anything about a person’s cleanliness or personal hygiene. Lice can happen to anybody, child or adult, and once you’ve got it, it’s not always easy to get rid of.
"Most people who have lice do not realize it for four to six weeks after contraction,” says Shawnda Walker of Nitwits in Toronto.
And it can take a few weeks, with lots of evenings spent combing out nits, to really get rid of it. Some people outsource the job to the pros, while others take on the task themselves. But if you have memories of dealing with lice as a kid, some things have changed — one of them being that the use of lice-killing chemicals is not as common and not necessary to be rid of the pests.
"With recent studies proving 99.6 per cent of head lice have mutations in genes that could allow them to survive the insecticides permethrin and pyrethrin found in most over-the-counter remedies, it's time to change the way people treat head lice,” says Dawn Mucci, founder and CEO of Lice Squad. "We need to look at more socially responsible ways to deal this this common human condition that will have a positive impact on the health of children and our environment."
Here are 19 things you should know about lice, from why it seems more common at this time of year to how you avoid it.