Friday 18 August 2000
Head-lice checks prevent discomfort, annoyance
Kim Stephens and Jolene Talmer
The Ottawa Citizen
Dr. Richard Pollack's opinion that the
public is wasting its time screening for head lice in our schools is
absurd ("School lice policies called 'cockamamie,' " Aug. 9).
Stephens helps run a successful head-check program for lice at
Churchill Alternative School. She says such programs are
important because an infestation is uncomfortable and its
treatment is tedious and potentially dangerous.
Parents are concerned about the pediculicide shampoos used to
treat head lice. Dr. Pollack fails to mention that these shampoos
are pesticides with possible carcinogenic side effects. One shampoo
contains lindane, a chemical that has suspected neurological
effects, has not been reviewed in 30 years, and is even banned in
At Churchill Alternative School, parent volunteers run a
successful head-check program. This program was started because 18
out of 24 students in one class were infested with head lice. As a
result, several of these students' family members and neighbourhood
friends were unnecessarily infested too.
This outbreak was difficult to treat. Parents were not aware of
the infestation until we started to witness uncomfortable children
scratching their heads. At this point, the little critters were well
established, which made treatment a very tedious and time-consuming
Since the start of our school program three years ago, we have
managed to avoid outbreaks, and so far have seen a decline in the
number of head-lice cases and re-infestations each school year. We
will never be able to eliminate this pest, but we do believe we can
help to contain the number of cases and therefore, the use of
Dr. Pollack emphasizes that head lice do not cause disease. He
fails to realize that the majority of Canadians are probably not
willing to accept lice as constant companions. Furthermore, his
opinions about head lice do not help in the establishment of
effective preventative programs. Classifying head lice as a nuisance
means that schools rely on volunteers to identify positive cases,
and there is little education and support for preventative programs.
More important, public-health agencies do not track head-lice
cases. This would help to reduce the misuse, and, therefore, future
ineffectiveness of pesticide shampoos, and also possibly reveal
harmful long-term effects of these chemicals.
Children do not have to miss school if there are measures in
place to stop the spread of head lice. After dealing with a case of
head lice, many Churchill parents have stated that they are not
concerned over the bug itself, but the treatment they have to endure
to get rid of this uncomfortable pest.
Kim Stephens and Jolene Talmer,
Co-ordinators of the Churchill Head Check Program