"That Harvard doctor doesn't know what he's talking about"

  1. September 23, 2002

    Orlando Sentinel
    Schools weigh policy on lice

    By Laurin Sellers
    Sentinel Staff Writer

    For decades, school nurses across the country have picked through the scalps of countless students in search of head lice and their sticky little eggs, called nits.

    Infested youngsters have been ushered out the door, banned from their classrooms until treatment and subsequent searches deemed them free of the crawling critters and their would-be offspring.

    Now the American Academy of Pediatrics says millions of students have missed days of class unnecessarily and is recommending that the nation's school districts backing off of their "no nit" policies.

    "No healthy child should be excluded from or allowed to miss school because of head lice," the AAP said. "Although not painful or a serious health hazard, head lice are the cause of much embarrassment and misunderstanding, many unnecessary days lost from school and work, and millions of dollars spent on remedies."

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out with a similar recommendation last year after studies found that most nits never hatch.

    But some experts and many parents disagree, arguing that the problem affecting between 6 million and 12 million children annually is only going to get worse.

    "This step definitely favors the louse," said Deborah Altschuler, president of the National Pediculosis Association, a nonprofit organization that has supported "no nit" policies for nearly two decades.

    "To say it's OK to go to school with lice and nits undermines everything we know about communicable disease prevention," she said.

    Altschuler said head lice have become resistant to most over-the-counter treatments, which contain pesticides that some experts consider harmful to humans.

    "They're not missing school because of 'no nit' policies, they're missing school because the treatments are ineffective," said Altschuler, whose organization sells a fine-toothed comb to remove nits.

    Among Central Florida school districts, Brevard County is the only one thus far to rescind its "no nit" policy. That was done quietly earlier this year before the AAP came out with its report.

    "We were aware of the results of the study and had been working with the health department on this," said district spokeswoman Sara T. Stern. "Parents weren't notified because we wanted to leave it up to the school nurses and health technicians."

    Under the new policy, students with live head lice are sent home and allowed to return if their parents say they have been treated. Children with nits can stay.

    Officials hold the line

    But school officials in Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Volusia and Lake said they have no plans to change their "no nit" standards.

    Richard Wells, a spokesman for Seminole County schools, questioned how administrators in Brevard will know for sure whether a child has been treated for lice.

    Dr. Richard Pollack, a Harvard School of Public Health entomologist who has pushed to have "no nit" policies removed nationwide, praised Brevard school officials for bringing the district "into the 21st century.

    "People wrongly connect head lice with squalor," he said. "There's nothing to support all the hysteria about head lice."

    Pollack said head lice don't transmit diseases and aren't spread as easily as most people believe.

    He and a research team at Harvard also believe that nearly half of the millions of reported cases are misdiagnosed.

    "I have my own little museum of things that have been mistaken for nits in children's heads -- glitter, knotted hair, lint, hair spray globs, bits of peanut butter crackers," Pollack said. "It would be funny if these kids were not being sent home from school.

    "Our opinion is that it's a fairly mild annoyance at most," he said.

    Mother doesn't agree

    But a Port St. John mother in Brevard County, who spent more than a month and $200 trying to rid her two daughters of head lice, disagreed.

    "It's awful," said the woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of embarrassing her child.

    "My youngest daughter got it at school and gave it to my oldest daughter who had to be treated five times," she said.

    "We would sit on the patio for days, trying to get the lice and nits out. The gel didn't work and neither did that little comb that came with it."

    The woman said she finally poured cooking oil on her daughter's head and used her fingernails to scrape along every slick strand of hair.

    "Then, all the combs and brushes had to be boiled and the sheets and pillowcases and everything had to be washed in hot water," she said. The bed, couch, chairs and car had to be cleaned and sprayed with chemicals to kill the lice.

    "It is a very big deal. I told my youngest daughter I would shave her bald if she ever brought them home again," she said.

    "That Harvard doctor doesn't know what he's talking about."

    Copyright 2002, Orlando Sentinel

    http://www.orlandosentinel.com/templ...s23092302sep23
    Laurin Sellers can be reached at lsellers@orlandosentinel.com.
    •  
  2. 1 Comments

  3. by   oramar
    Well reguardless of what you think of this article one truth remains, head lice have been around as long as humans and will not be going away anytime soon.

close