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School Nurse Disagrees with Boston Globe

As a school nurse, I am troubled by Richard Pollack’s comments on head lice. (“An Explorer in the World of Insects”(Boston Globe) Health/Science, Page C2, April 3). To tell people not to be afraid of chemicals is simply wrong. Over-the-counter chemicals sold to treat lice, most often contain plant-based products such as pyrethrins. These can cause serious allergic reactions for individuals with asthma and allergies. Fifteen percent of my students have asthma, and would be greatly harmed by these over-the-counter chemicals. Prescription pesticides for head lice such as Ovide, which contains malathion, or Kwell, which contains lindane, a potent neurotoxin, do pose serious health risks to children. Lindane carries the FDA black box warning. The state of California has banned lindane because they don’t want it to get into the ground water. According to the Pesticide Action Network of North America, lindane has been banned in 52 countries, and severely restricted in 33 others. Why would anyone want to put this chemical on their child’s head?

What is even more outrageous to me is the fact that we have perfectly good non-chemical treatments for head lice. The National Pediculosis Association (NPA) developed a combing device that effectively works to comb out all active lice and nits. In 10 years, I have always been able to treat head lice without chemicals by combing. As a school nurse, I teach parents to identify lice and nits, and demonstrate proper technique for removal. A supportive and knowledgeable school nurse can assist parents in identifying a problem, and successfully end infestations without health risks to their child.

The correct diagnosis of head lice is important. I don’t agree with Richard Pollack’s statement “Most physicians will never see a head louse”. Many pediatricians screen for head lice as part of their practice. School nurses are in an excellent position to identify head lice, and we see them frequently. It is one of the many health issues affecting children that we see regularly. The parents that I work with want to safely remove lice and nits from their children’s heads, and their own (parents get head lice too!). They want any help they can get to protect their children from unnecessary and harmful chemicals, especially pesticides.

Patty Battle-Mutter,
RN, BSN, MPH Chestnut Hill, MA

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