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We Are Bigger Than Head Lice

      BOSTON, Sept. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- Sixty health professionals as well as parent "head checkers" traveled to Newport, Vermont to kick off National Head Lice Prevention month for back-to-school at the "We Are Bigger Than Head Lice" conference held in the state's Emory Hebard Building in Newport. Organized by Joanie Austin, R.N. and Denise Rowell of Orleans Supervisory Union, the symposium was considered a great success! It is the first time the "No Nit Policy" as a public health standard was debated with representation by important players on both sides of the issue. Typically "expert panels" on the subject are organized as marketing tools by public relations firms representing manufacturers of lice products.

      Austin insisted that a balanced forum was necessary since recent decisions against the "No Nit Policy" appeared to be strictly one-sided. She is one of a growing number of school nurses finding their voices in disagreement with positions taken by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses. Austin invited Deborah Z. Altschuler, President of the National Pediculosis Association® (NPA), a nonprofit organization established in 1983 and Vermont's Dr. Barbara Frankowski, a pediatrician and representative of the American Academy of Pediatrics section on School Health. Austin explained that the confusion about head lice management negatively impacts school nurses as well as the children in their care and that she has found the "No Nit Policy" a mainstay in keeping pediculosis problems to a minimum.

      Altschuler began the morning session with her address "Because it's not about lice, it's about kids." She pointed out that many communities arrived at "No Nit Policies" having learned the hard way that having no policy creates confusion adding unnecessary risks for inappropriate responses. Altschuler focused attendees on the Prothrow-Stith public health model -- stressing basic goals of routine screening, early detection and removing nits before it becomes a huge task. The NPA's "No Nit Standard" puts dismissal from school as a last resort after all efforts have been made to educate parents in advance of outbreaks, enabling them to respond appropriately without panic, and with every opportunity to safely send kids to school lice and nit free.

      Pharmacist Jack Ruggles of Barton, Vermont, briefly described the various head lice treatments available at most pharmacies. He said the biggest pediculosis problem pharmacists have is dealing with distraught and frantic parents eager to find a cure. He acknowledged the problems of treatment failure, the potential for misuse and the misleading claims made by manufacturers and via the Internet.

      The highlight of the conference was the after lunch debate between Altschuler and Frankowski. It may be surprising that there would ever be debate about removing lice eggs from children's hair; however each woman presented her side of the argument. Frankowski insisted she "wouldn't mind" if after a case of head lice she had residual nits. Altschuler, on the other hand, doubted that Frankowski "would want to be known by her patients as the pediatrician with nits."

      There was considerable agreement about protecting the children and differences of opinion stayed mainly with exclusion issues. Frankowski stated that exclusion would be unfair to lower socio-economic groups who may be unable to get treatment. Altschuler responded that abandoning the "No Nit Standard" for this reason alone was analogous to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Altschuler agreed fully that the "system" needed to be there for those who need help for whatever the reason – a realistic goal only if others who are able are held responsible for sending their kids to school lice and nit free. Both sides agreed overwhelmingly to avoid using products that contain lindane or malathion.

      Though no debate winner was formally declared, the local school superintendent sitting in the back of the conference room turned to the school nurse sitting at his side at the end of the six hour session and said, "Not to worry – we're keeping our No Nit Policy!"

Sharon Gallagher
Director of Public Outreach
National Pediculosis Association®, Inc.
Phone: 1.800.446.4672 x119
Fax: 781.449.8129

     The National Pediculosis Association is a Non Profit organization serving the public since 1983 with a mission to protect children from unnecessary exposure to pesticides used to treat lice and scabies. The NPA along with LA County Sanitation Department recently received the prestigious 2001 Most Valuable Pollution Prevention Award for the nation.

SOURCE The National Pediculosis Association
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