What it's all about
Nits are an ancient curse. There is evidence of infestation throughout history: a single nit on a human hair dating to around 8000BC was found at a Brazilian archaeological dig. Combs have been recovered from ancient Egyptian tombs and on corpses preserved at Pompeii, writes Justine Crow.
In recent times, the scourge seems worse than ever. But it is important to get our facts straight. The "nit" in question is not an insect, but an empty eggshell. White in colour, one or two glued to a stray hair often go unnoticed. It is only after several weeks that the appearance of scores of grains - scattered like salt behind the ears - sets parental alarm bells ringing. By that time, the inhabitants have long since hatched, matured and laid eggs again, not to mention relocated to other handy heads.
In many societies, grooming for nits was, and still is, a social activity. There are tableaux on Indian temples showing obedient wives rummaging in their husbands' partings and depictions of families nitpicking with all the festive air of a picnic. Here in the West, we don't look until it is too late.
Consequently, children are regularly sent home with the "louse letter" asking parents and carers to check their child's head. The best solution is a simple one: comb, conditioner and elbow grease once or twice a week to take control of the problem.
Bug busting: wipe out nits quickly with advice from Community Hygiene Concern, or see how school nursing has changed, with a day in the life of a senior school nurse - from Teachers TV.