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  The Ottawa Citizen Online Letters Page
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).

Kim 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 other countries.

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 job.

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 pesticides.

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

Copyright 2000 Ottawa Citizen


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