What do you call a cheerful nit? The answer's a hop-timist. What do you call a musical nit? A humbug. And how do nits get away from it all? The joke answer is that they fly British Hairways. The truth is that neither nits nor head lice can fly. They can't even hop or jump.
Nobody likes head lice. Parents are embarrassed if their children are discovered to have them. In fact, some fathers say they would rather their children were sent home from school for fighting than for having head lice.
And some mothers are more afraid their children might pass on head lice at a sleepover than break a precious ornament.
The truth is that anybody can catch head lice, but only by close head-to-head contact, because lice can scurry quickly through dry hair from one head to another. They are just as happy in clean hair as dirty hair, just as happy in short hair as long hair. This is because they live by sucking blood from your scalp. And you can't avoid them by combing your hair all the time. It's not true (as some people say) that "if you break their legs, they won't lay eggs".
In former times, special nurses used to come into schools and inspect each child's hair in front of the whole class. These "nit nurses" were often nicknamed Nitty Nora. But nits are only the harmless empty eggshells of head lice. It's the lice that need to be caught and that's best done if everyone searches for them on the same day, then they don't just escape from one person (in a class or family) to the next. So that is why we have bug-busting days.
* Bug Busting Day is organised by a charity, Community Hygiene Concern, which provides a teaching pack containing a video, sample Family Bug Buster Kit, worksheets and posters at pound;28.40 (including VAT) from Manor Gardens Centre, 6-9 Manor Gardens, London N7 6LA Tel: 020 7686 4321 Email: email@example.com
* The Lice Advisory Bureau website is sponsored by the makers of a chemical treatment for head lice.
The site also offers useful fact sheets, a teachers' zone and details of a PowerPoint presentation for parents.
* October 31 will be the next Bug Busting Day.