TOO many Bolton kids have livestock on their minds, believes a local hairdresser. And she means head lice.

Gillian Woodward has GC's salon in Higher Swan Lane, Great Lever, and has been there for 17 years, but has never seen as many cases of head lice as she has in recent months.

Gillian isn't nit-picking - but she wishes more parents would. She believes they should be doing the job with a good, old-fashioned, close-toothed nit comb.

She contacted the BEN to say: "This seems to be a social issue now. At one time there were nit nurses in the schools, but that doesn't happen any more and the responsibility has fallen on the parents. I feel as if the parents don't know enough or, in a lot of cases, don't care enough.

"There's a social stigma attached to head lice and the stigma should be moved from the children to the parents who don't deal with the problem. Everyone keeps this to themselves when the subject needs to be brought out into the open and dealt with, because it can be a very serious problem."

Gillian thinks that the nits are becoming more resistant to the bug-killing lotions because now there are various types on the shelves and they are not used in "cycles" which introduce different toxins as and when others become less effective.

She feels the lotions available need to be regulated in this respect, and also for the sake of the children who are frequently treated with them. She said: "In Third World countries there isn't this problem, and there isn't a chemist on every corner."

The answer, she feels, is GROOMING; daily inspection and weekly grooming with a nit comb. She added: "It is something which needs to be done regularly."

Another problem is that a child may pick up nits and be treated, but often the parents do not understand that everyone in the family must be inspected and treated if necessary; sorting out the problem on one family member is not enough.

Gillian said: "This last six to eight weeks I have had more cases of children with head lice in the shop than I have ever known in 17 years....maybe three a week."

If a child does have an infestation, the hairdresser can not cut or wash the child's hair; she must just say: "You have a problem which needs attention," and send the child home.

According to Gillian, conversations with family and friends in Westhoughton reveal the same escalation of the nit problem there.

She cautioned: "The lotions which are used now are toxic and to treat a child two or three times with one isn't going to do the child much good." Grooming, she thinks, is the answer. But, she said, children will always pick up head lice; it is the parents who must be vigilant.

Launching an awareness drive last year, Dr Robert Aston, consultant in communicable disease control, explained that there were no longer school "nit nurses" because "routine head inspections as a screening measure have been found to have little effect" and because nits were not a school problem, but a community problem. The answer to this long-standing itch lies, then, with parents. Nit combs cost less then £2 - and for the high-tech louse there is also an electronic nit detector for around £25.

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