Science no matter what kind we might be referring to: medical, chemical, atomic, anthropological, geological and the many other types that also exist can generally do a very good job of explaining how and why those things that fall under their area of study serve to work, act or exist in the way they do. A scientist’s job, at any given time, might be to study, observe, measure, quantify, experiment, theorize, formulate, build, explain, manufacture; well you get the idea. But how exactly does science explain why so many of us seem to have what I can best describe as a fundamental, even primal fear of insects; in this case the common head louse? Now this emotional reaction I refer to as fear obviously occurs on some sort of a sliding scale, depending on the individual; for certain people it really can be almost a paralyzing sort of fear, for others just a moderate or mild distaste and for some almost no reaction at all. If the “no reaction at all” individual did not exist we would never find anyone willing to work in the pest control industry. If we accept the fact that there are “all kinds”, so to speak, when it comes to a person’s basic emotional reaction to an insect, then I also believe that this reaction must be hardwired into us, as a very definite part of our specific DNA or genetic makeup. Similar, in fashion, to why certain people can faint dead away at the sight of blood and most others are unaffected. Many of us have an instinctual fear of snakes and would avoid contact with one, even if we were told it was harmless, others will pick a snake up without any fear; again I suggest whatever our reaction is to a snake, it is very much built into our genes*.
Scientists are pretty firm in their belief that our ancestors began on earth around 6 million years ago and modern man has been in existence for about 200,000 years. I have often wondered why this fear of insects evolved inside our genetic makeup the way it has over that lengthy period.It is quite obvious that a fear of snakes, in certain instances makes a lot of sense, but with insects perhaps this fear is sometimes dismissed as mere hysteria, but I do not believe that to be true. This “fear” did not just become part of us, for no good reason; it must exist in the same common sense way the rest of our body has evolved, through those traits, functions and instincts becoming a part of us, that give us the best chance for survival, as a species*
I can only think that our fear of insects, for some, or distaste as it might affect others, has become a fundamental part of us because the dangers associated with many of these insects are very real and exist because they are a definite part of our DNA based “survival instinct”. Antibiotics have only been in general usefor about 75 years and anti-venoms around 100 years; a mere drop in the ocean compared to the actual duration of mankind’s existence. It is fair to say that if you go back in time, that 75 or hundred years, and imagine someone dealing with the health risks associated with an unfortunate insect encounter; the personal impact, to that individual,was far more potentially devastating then, than today. One can only imagine how many insect bites resulted in serious wounds or even death. How many allergic reactions, to an insect bite, had to go untreated with also potentially severe consequences**? It might also be worth noting that even in this age blessed by advanced antibiotics and medical techniques the diseases transmitted by insect bites kill more people each year than all other wild animals combined, including snakes and sharks***
This article is titled“Head Lice-Our Fear and The Facts” and I believe it is fair to say that many of us do have that basic fear or distaste for this insect. The head lice does not just invade our home, it attacks our body. If you can accept my theory that this reaction is part of our very genetic framework; I suggest this is so because following are “The Facts” associated with a head lice and once you familiarize yourself with those facts I think you might agree that our so-called fear of this insect evolved inside of us for a very good reason.
The head louse is a parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows and eyelashes of people. Head lice feed on human blood and prefer to live in close proximity to the human scalp. Head lice are spread by direct contact with the head of an infested person. This type of contact is quite common during play at school, at home or other group activities.
The very real health risk associated with these insects come in the form of louse born diseases such as typhus, trench fever, relapsing fever,ricksettial diseases, hepatitis B virus and further secondary infections and irritations from scratching their bites.**
The head louse is found in three forms: the egg or nit, the nymph or immature louse and the adult. Both the nymph and adult must feed on blood to survive and the nits are laid by the females and firmly cemented to hair shafts close to the scalp. The nits are particularly difficult to see, being so close to the scalp, and on those with long hair the problem is made more difficult. Head lice can also be spread by sharing clothing or belongings and also by lying on a bed, couch, pillow or carpet that has recently been in contact with an infested person. People experiencing a head lice infestation can feel a tickling feeling in their hair or something moving. Itching caused by an allergic reaction to the lice bite, irritability and difficulty sleeping (head lice are most active in the dark) and sores on the head caused by scratching can also occur. These sores can sometimes become infected with bacteria found on the human skin or under human finger nails****.
It is fair to say that humans affected with any of these diseases or viruses noted above, prior to modern medicine (even with modern medicine some people still die from some of these afflictions), could have found their very life at risk and our fears are not just some sort of hysterical reaction but a very real and important survival instinct.
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*”THE TRUTH ABOUT COCKROACHES and HEALTH”, Dr. Jorge Parada, National Pest Management Association, December 4, 2012
**”Head Lice As Vectors of Disease”, Deborah Altschuler, L. Lance Sholdt, PhD, Head.lice.org
*** Time Magazine, July 2015, pgs. 92,93, “What’s the world’s deadliest creature?”
****Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9/2/15, Head Lice FAQ’s
*****Testing Certification, Dr. Jeffrey Brown, American Academy of Entomological Sciences