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Recently I have been reading a lot about head lice – what with the new school term starting and the high season for head lice anxiety looming. It turns out to be a hugely interesting area full of unanswered questions and research waiting to be done but it is easy to lose sight of this when you get stuck in the sort of websites that use a lot of capital letters and coloured words to make sure you understand just how bad things can be.
Here’s an idea for anyone who wants to make a fast buck. All you have to do is to invent a product for treating head lice. Next, dream up some colourful advertising – snappy slogans, close–up pictures of head lice and so forth and really play on parents’ fears and ignorance. Nobody does head lice for GCSE biology, it seems, so this is pretty easy. First, play up the revulsion factor in a big way. It’s good if you can play up themes such as the fact that your product is natural, designed by a mother and contains no neurotoxic insecticides. Other good points are to suggest that it will destroy all lice and eggs in less than 10 minutes, because speed is more important than effectiveness in advertising. Now here is the really good bit – you do not need to prove that your product actually works, that is to say, kill head lice. If you are not looking for marketing authorisation as a medicine and a place in the Drug Tariff this will not be necessary and you can dispense with clinical trials too. If you have a conscience you could include a head louse detection comb with your product then for those who are sufficiently dedicated to use the comb for rigorous detection this will do the trick. If you just want the fast buck, forget the comb.
Another little dodge would be to call your product a louse repellent. That way you admit that it does not actually kill lice but manage to imply that it does frighten them away. I am not up to speed on repellence tests so I do not know how to differentiate between a good louse repellent and a mediocre one. My experience of other insect repellents has been dismal – so this one would not work for me.
In due course, your thoughts might turn to line extensions. A good wheeze here is to suggest to parents that their houses and soft furnishings (or even their pets) have become breeding grounds for head lice. This conveniently explains why the children treated with your product have not become louse-free and gives you an entrée into the domestic sanitisation market … the world is your oyster.
Reading about head lice was by turns entertaining and infuriating until I came upon a piece of research that showed that one-third of community pharmacies (in a survey of 92) displayed unlicensed products – and that was depressing.
I cannot help feeling that a bit of elementary lousology would go a long way to promote rational treatment. Obviously it should go on the national curriculum but until that happy day, here are the key facts:
Head lice do not frighten easily – they need frequent blood meals so they stay close to the dining room. If they drop off they are unlikely to be able to climb back on in time for the next shot of the life-giving red stuff.
Head lice are pretty smart – if they see a comb coming they scuttle off to a quieter spot – dousing them with shampoo and conditioner makes them very slow off the starting blocks.
Head louse eggs are very tough – several things kill adult lice but some eggs almost always survive. This means that two treatments are always required – one to kill today’s adults and one a bit later when all the remaining eggs have hatched.
Adolescent head lice like to travel – if they see a fresh scalp within sprinting distance they will run for it.
Head lice do not live in soft furnishings – there are no suitable dining facilities.
Head lice are human parasites – they do not like dogs or cats.
Head lice are not known to transmit any blood-borne disease and they do not even make every host’s scalp itchy.
How many times have you scratched your head since you started reading this?