Thursday, 28 August 2014

sharing parasites

Back to school, and everyone has been on holiday, collecting new bugs to bring back to school and share with their friends.

Sniffles and tummy bugs are all the rage, and these pass soon enough, but some things are more tenacious, I'm talking about parasites, in particular two which are the bane of nurseries and primary schools.

Head lice
A male head louse (pic from wikipedia commons here)

Head lice spend their lives on human heads, feeding on human blood.  They are not very good at walking, and cannot jump or fly at all, so they are passed on by close contact of heads. Contrary to the stated opinion of some teachers, loose hair is not more likely to spread head lice as they cannot swing Tarzan-like from head to head.  If they are unlucky enough to come off the head they will die within two days.

If you're looking for close contact of heads, look no further than a primary school.  The children seem to have no concept of personal space and spend their days squishing up to each other.  It's brilliant, if you're a head louse.  Because girls spend more time cuddling each other than boys, they are more at risk, but head lice are really not that serious.

I mean, they're horrible, and it isn't pleasant to find them crawling about on your child's head, but they don't carry any diseases.

To treat head lice you can get chemical treatments from the chemist (in Scotland you can get these under the minor ailments).  You need to comb the hair A LOT, with a fine tooth comb, and you will generally find that not all the lice are quite dead.  

Each female head louse can lay 3-4 eggs a day, and your chemical treatment will not kill these, so you'll need to do regular (daily if possible) fine-tooth combing of wet hair (it's more effective if you drench the hair in conditioner) for a couple of weeks to be on the safe side.  By the way, 'nits' is the word for the empty shell casings left on the hair after the lice have hatched out.  In cooler climates eggs are laid within about 5mm of the scalp to keep them warm (in hotter areas they can be 15cm down the hair shaft!).

You also need to tell the school that you've had head lice, however, schools don't seem to do anything about it at the moment, so you're best to also tell the other parents you know, otherwise your child is likely to get reinfested quite soon.  If everyone treats their children at the same time, and as diligently, you can wipe them out... for a while.

There is no need to wash everything in sight if you treat the infestation as described.

Are you itching yet?

Two female threadworms.  The ruler markings are
milimetres. Pic from wikipedia commons, here
Threadworms

Threadworms (or pinworms if you're in the US) are tiny little worms which look like tiny bits of thread, they live in human intestines, but need oxygen for their eggs to mature.  A female threadworm will fill her body entirely with lots of tiny eggs, and when I say lots I mean 11-16,000, and then leave the body via the anus to lay the eggs and then die.  This happens at night for some reason.  

When she lays her eggs she secretes a mucus which irritates the skin, causing the host to itch. Eggs are laid around the anus, and in girls, around the vagina and urethra too. The eggs have a sticky coating to start off with, and we cannot see them, so they transfer to clothing, itching fingers, bed sheets, and from there go further.

From fingers they can be transferred into mouths, and reinfest the host, or can stick onto toys, remote controls, mobile 'phones, pretty much anywhere.  When you change the beds the eggs can be shaken off and get onto drawers, carpets, and even be inhaled.  The eggs can survive temperatures of -8C, and will remain viable for up to three weeks.

Threadworms live all over the world, and around 11% of people have them, although when you focus in on children this rises massively because children are not great at hand hygiene.  Some studies have suggested that 50% of children are affected.

So, what do you do if your children are affected?  It can be tricky to spot the worms themselves, but it's a definite maybe if your child is complaining of an itchy bum, or a girl is complaining of itchy bits, especially if it's really itchy at night.  

You can get treatment for threadworms from the pharmacist on the minor ailments if you're in Scotland.  You can probably buy something at the pharmacist if you're elsewhere.  It consists of one tablet, and that's all.

However, now you've killed the worms, you've got those tens of thousands of eggs to deal with.  So wash, wash everything in sight.  Take the bedding off the beds as gently as possible to avoid wafting the eggs into the air, and wash them as hot as you can.  Clean everything initially, and hoover the house.

After that you need to be vigilant about cleanliness for a couple of weeks.  Be particularly careful about keeping kitchen and bathroom surfaces clean, and hoover regularly.  Ensure children cover their bums in bed, onesies are ideal because they're hard to accidentally scratch your bum in.  It's really important to stress hand hygiene, washing hands after going to the toilet and before eating.

After two weeks you can get another treatment from the pharmacist, and then you can relax a bit on the cleaning front.

Eurgh.  Threadworms are vile.

Of course, there are lots of things that live on our bodies and in our bodies which are fine - eyelash mites affect 80% of people over 60 and rarely cause trouble, we need bacteria in our gut or we get sick, but I for one could live without threadworms, and without headlice.  

Have your family been affected by tiny beasties?

Other posts you might like:
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The little girl had a hospital appointment earlier this week to see how the broken bones are getting on.  It is still a little bit wonky, but the doctors are happy that it is within acceptable limits.  The break is in the middle of the bone and the bone grows from either end, so will straighten out over time.  Apparently in a couple of years you'll hardly be able to tell she'd broken it.  She still has her heavy plaster cast on at the moment, but there is hope that she could get a smaller cast in another couple of weeks.  It's two weeks since she broke it.