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Nix to nits: Schools urged to be tougher

November 17, 2008
Elisabeth Johns
The Hamilton Spectator
(Nov 17, 2008)

A group of city parents are bugged out by head lice in Hamilton's schools.

The parents, organized by Cindy Currie and Sara Horvath, moms of youngsters at Adelaide Hoodless Public School, in east Hamilton near Main and Gage streets, say they want both Catholic and public school board pediculosis policies to change.

She and other parents want the Hamilton school boards to change their policy to a no-nit policy, like the Halton school boards, to prevent lice outbreaks.

The Hamilton public and Catholic board follow Hamilton public health unit guidelines when children at school have lice.

Students are sent home and can't return until a parent has signed a form saying their child is taking an approved treatment, like Nix or R & C shampoos. It's the parents' responsibility to check and remove nits.

But Currie says she has seen far too many children have lice reinfestation or the original bout of pediculosis wasn't cleared up.

After speaking with a number of frustrated parents she has learned there's not enough education and training about lice treatment and removal.

When insecticide treatments don't work -- either because they were improperly applied or the bugs are resistant to the chemicals -- parents have tried unproven and some unsafe alternative methods, like coating hair with olive oil, tea tree oil and even gasoline, none of which work, she said.

No-nit policies mandate any child with head lice must be immediately sent home and can't return to school until the child's head has been screened by a health official. In Halton's case, this is done by a screening agency called We Care Home Health Services.

Horvath's daughter had lice last year and it took her three weeks to rid her of them. She chose to keep her four-year-old daughter home until the nits were gone.

"As long as kids are allowed to keep going to school with lice, it's just putting a Band-Aid on (the problem)," said Horvath. "It's like continually filling a bucket with holes in it."

No-nit policies aren't accepted by all school and health boards. The Canadian Pediatric Society, which represents pediatricians across the country, states no-nit policies are unnecessary since the bugs don't cause disease and cases are often misdiagnosed.

Debbie Wassell, the pediculosis resource nurse with Hamilton Public Health Services, said children shouldn't miss school nor should parents miss work because of lice.

"Under no-nit policies, a child can miss weeks of school," Wassell said. "The health department has to base their guidelines on medical evidence, not on hysteria."

Bonnie Byers, who offers advice through Licebusters.ca, said when there isn't a no-nit policy at a school, more head lice infestations occur.

But she advises no-nit policies have to be accompanied with education about proper treatments and lice removal.

The group of parents are meeting on Thursday and intend to take their concerns to the school board.