Suffolk: One in 10 primary school pupils have nits

SUFFOLK is in the grips of a major nit epidemic - with almost 10,000 primary school pupils currently affected.

Damp, warm weather and an increasing resilience to conventional treatments is to blame for the outbreak, according to one expert.

Ian Burgess, director of Insect Research and Development at the Medical Entomology Centre, which is based in Cambridge, said: “This summer we have had lots of damp weather and our studies suggest that this has caused a higher level of lice than normal. The weather has also meant more children indoors and in close contact with each other which has increased the speed at which the infestation has spread.

“Currently our research suggest that around 10 per cent of pupils in a school have nits, which in an average primary school is about 40 children at any one time.

“Chances are this is also being passed on from these children to their siblings and even their parents who in turn can pass it on to their colleagues at work.”

If 40 children are affected in each of Suffolk’s 230 state primary schools, there are around 9,200 pupils age five to 11 currently with nits.

Using that formula, nearly 10,500 children in Essex also have nits.

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Ipswich is home to 58 state primary schools which have an estimated 2,320 pupils with nits.

With private school pupils not included in the estimate, nor the siblings and parents of the affected children who also catch head lice, the real figure for people with nits in the county is likely to be even higher.

Barbara Richardson-Todd, a school nurse from Whitton School Nursing team in Ipswich said: “We have heard reports of high schools also having incidences of lice which is unusual.

“Usually in the summer you see a decrease in the number of cases being reported because children are out in the fresh air and running around. I think it is fair to say that the weather this summer is causing the reverse to happen because children are inside, sat at desks with heads close together.”

Barbara looks after West Ipswich education establishments, which include three high schools, one pupil referral unit and 19 primary schools - a total of 7,500 children.

Her job includes carrying out screening for height, weight, vision and hearing, for every five-year-old, running surgeries and drop-in clinics as well as talking to parents, children and teachers about problems affecting young people.

The former teacher and school nurse of 15 years said she was often called in to talk to schools about how to cope with a nit problem.

“We no longer have a nit nurse who rummages through heads looking for bugs because this is a relatively pointless exercise and lice can easily be missed,” she said. “We find it far better to educate parents on how to deal with the problem.

“Hopefully the current nit problem will appease during the summer holidays when the children are off school but it is possible that it will hit again in the autumn term. Our job is to encourage mothers to be vigilant and to condition and comb regularly. Anybody can catch nits - they are not just restricted to the heads of primary school pupils. Sometimes we find a whole family is affected - from child to sibling, to parent to granny and grandpa.”

Mr Burgess, who is the leading parasitologist in the UK and also studies cockroaches, fleas and bedbugs, said one of the reasons for rise in nits was that the lice were becoming increasingly immune to traditional treatments.

“A lot of products don’t work very well and those that do are not necessarily easy to use,” he said. “Lice have also built up some resistance to treatments such as pesticides. As a result the incidence of lice has risen dramatically over the past few generations.”

The current advice on treating nits includes wet combing and using a medicated lotion or spray.

For more information visit the NHS Choices website http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Head-lice/Pages/Treatment.aspx

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