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Policies: When Lice Attack the Classroom

By John O'Neil
From The New York Times 09/02/03

A year after the American Academy of Pediatrics called on schools to end no-nits policies that keep children being treated for head lice out of classes, little has changed except the intensity of the debate, according to an article published yesterday in The American Journal of Nursing.

The article said few schools had dropped their no-nits rules, even though the pediatrics academy had argued that the policy led some children to miss so much school that they were forced to repeat a grade.

The academy says schools should educate parents to check routinely for head lice when children scratch a lot. When lice are discovered in school, it says, the child should be sent home at the end of the day, to limit embarrassment, and parents should be urged to begin treatment immediately to allow the child to return the next day.

The academy recommends treatment with a cream rinse, sold commercially as Nix, which contains permethrin.

The nursing journal article said those recommendations had been vigorously contested over the last year by members of the National Pediculosis Association, which opposes chemical treatments in favor of the use of special combs to find and remove nits.

Dr. Barbara Frankowski, a Vermont pediatrician who is chairwoman of the academy's committee on school health, said in an interview that she had heard of some districts in her area that had dropped the no-nit policy, but was not aware of any widespread change.

She said the rules made no sense. "Nits cannot spread head lice - a nit is an unhatched egg that's firmly attached to the child's hair," she said. "And not to downplay the nuisance factor, but absolutely no harm can come to a child as a result of contracting nits."

"Just because head lice are icky," she added, "people get all hot and bothered about it."

*NPA Comment: Nits (hatched or unhatched) in the hair indicate the possible presence of live lice which are communicable. Thorough nit removal is the vital component in controlling head lice.

© 2003 The New York Times Company


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