Nick de la Torre/AP
A vocational nurse looks for lice on a

Some Schools Relax Restrictions on Lice

February 20, 2009 10:29 AM
by Emily Coakley
The nuisance of lice infestations has been made a little easier for some families as school districts stop sending home children found with nits in their hair.

Roles of Parents, Schools Still Unclear for Some in Lice Infestations

More schools around the country are allowing children into class if they have lice eggs, or nits, in their hair after a lice infestation, the Associated Press reports.

“Nits don’t spread. They don’t jump from one person to another. So to withhold a child from school due to nits really interrupts the educational process,” said Amy Garcia, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses, in an AP interview.

The association, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, has recommended allowing children into school as long as they don’t have live lice crawling in their hair.

Public health officials don’t consider lice a health threat. “Lice have not been found to carry disease, though excessive scratching can lead to infections,” AP said.

For parents, eliminating a lice infestation is an aggravating process involving specially formulated shampoo, fine-toothed combs, and several loads of laundry to clean clothes, bedding and cloth toys. Some parents have also had to miss work to watch children kept out of school because of old “no nit” policies.

In some districts, parents feel the schools should be stricter and do more to keep lice from spreading at school. One mother in San Francisco told AP she blamed the relaxed nits policy on her daughters each getting lice twice in a school year.

Earlier this month, parents in the western suburbs of Chicago met with district officials to talk about lice, reported suburban Chicago paper Pioneer Press. More than two dozen parents told Prospect School officials they were frustrated the school wasn’t conducting lice checks.

But a DuPage County Health Department official at the meeting told parents that “because head lice is not a school-based issue, the responsibility for monitoring and checking for head lice should be with parents,” the Pioneer Press reported.
Worries of lice infestations were causing parents a great deal of anxiety, the paper said.

In Florida, a lice outbreak caused anxiety for school officials after 10 percent of the kids at Orange County’s Timber Lakes Elementary were kept home because of the bugs.

John Edwards, the school’s area superintendent, told WFTV that planned budget cuts are going to make outbreaks even more of a problem for teachers. The school doesn’t have an assistant principal or other support staff because of previous budget cuts. Teachers trying to administer one-on-one reading tests had to take time to check each others’ hair while a health attendant checked students, the superintendent told the television station. Custodians were also busy cleaning the school.

The custodians’ efforts, however well-intentioned, may be useless, suggest one researcher. In 2007, the PTA magazine Our Children had an article examining what role a child’s school should play when there are lice outbreaks. Richard Pollack, a Harvard School of Public Health entomologist, said schools shouldn’t use insecticides on buses or objects in the school when students are found to have lice. Lice don’t spread through objects, but by people.

Teachers and the administration should also tell a student’s parents, and only the parents, when lice if found on a child.

“Head lice may be an annoyance, but they are neither a serious medical problem nor a public health issue,” Pollack wrote.

He also wrote that “Lice eggs seem to cause more panic among parents and school staff than does nearly any other problem associated with head lice.” Debris, dead eggs and other lice remnants can stick to a person’s scalp for years.

“If nits are discovered, look for a live (crawling) louse. If none is found, then the logical conclusion is that the child is likely no longer infested,” Pollack wrote, adding that a person’s head should be checked on occasion, but only treated if a live louse is found.

Related Topics: “Super lice”; lice myths debunked

Another problem is that lice have built up a resistance to existing treatments. One woman who runs a lice removal service in Arizona “estimates that shampoos today are about 50 percent effective,” according to findingDulcinea. The reason, explained Michele Earl, is that the common treatments have been around for decades, so the lice have adapted.

Besides the aggravation of actually getting rid of them, lice have also carried a stigma: that those infected come from dirty homes or have poor hygiene. But that’s not true, according to the Chicago Tribune. Children of all socioeconomic levels get lice.

According to the Tribune, it’s also unnecessary to bag stuffed animals or sanitize the house from top to bottom when a lice infestation is discovered.

“Bugs can live for 24 hours off of the head, but they don’t survive off of the head,” said Katie Shepherd, author of “Lice Advice: The Shepherd Method of Strand by Strand Nit Removal.”

She suggests targeted cleaning: “Wash sheets and pajamas. Clean the hairbrush, or don’t use it for 24 hours. If the child sleeps with a blanket or stuffed animal, throw it in the dryer,” the Tribune reported.

Shepherd also recommends parents avoid home remedies, such as using kerosene, mayonnaise, flea shampoo for dogs or the insecticide malathion. Mayonnaise isn’t very effective, and the other remedies could harm or even kill a child, she said.

Reference: Guide to lice


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