Scratching heads over lice

By Tom Nordlie • Published: November 15th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Head lice are disgusting, there’s no doubt.

But in some school districts, these itch-inducing, bloodsucking pests have a worse reputation than they deserve.

Administrators sometimes enact zero-tolerance policies against head lice.

That means any student with signs of infestation must stay home until declared louse-free.

It SOUNDS good.

However, new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics say zero-tolerance policies can go too far.

If that happens, children may be needlessly ordered to stay home from class.

Here’s one example:

Under some policies, empty egg cases are considered proof of infestation.

Head louse egg cases are easy to find… they’re tiny white blobs attached to hair shafts, near the scalp.

Their significance isn’t always clear.

Empty egg cases could mean a new generation of head lice just hatched.

Or they could indicate that a hatching occurred weeks earlier.

So the academy recommends that schools not tell students to stay home on the basis of empty egg cases alone.

The recommendations appeared in a recent issue of the journal Pediatrics.

This is an important topic.

Worldwide, head lice infestations are on the rise.

Every year in the U-S, between six-million and twelve-million children ages three to eleven are treated for head lice.

The article makes it clear that everyone involved must address the problem.

Students and parents need to check for the pests and follow treatment protocols carefully. Teachers need to tell parents about suspected infestations. School nurses must diagnose accurately and administrators can’t overreact.

With vigilance and a realistic attitude, schools can go a long way toward keeping head lice out of classrooms, and keeping students in them.