Districts allow students with head lice to remain in school
By Andy Rathbun, Herald Writer
It might sound like a head scratcher.
Many school districts are no longer asking parents to keep kids with head lice out of class.
A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that the tiny blood-sucking insects just aren't a health threat.
School districts in Everett, Edmonds and Monroe now are changing how they handle instances of students infested with the sesame seed-sized bugs. Officials said they may need to overcome some long-held beliefs as they ask for children to be deloused — but also to stay in school.
“I'm expecting there will be some negative reaction among parents and staff,” said Jim McNally, executive director of Everett schools.
There shouldn't be, health officials say. The Snohomish Health District is one of many groups supporting the change. Its message is simple: School absences cause more damage than a head full of lice.
“No one dies of head lice,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “No one even gets sick from head lice.”
That's not to say lice aren't pests. The grayish-white bugs set up camp on a person's scalp, sucking tiny amounts of blood every few hours. Itching results from the saliva they inject as an anticoagulant.
The bugs aren't very mobile. They don't hop or fly. They rely on six legs to crawl around.
Usually they spread through direct head-to-head contact — think of little kids wrestling. To a lesser degree, they can be passed by sharing items such as brushes and hats, according to “Head Lice,” the American Academy of Pediatrics study published in July.
The study argues that lice shouldn't spark concern for two big reasons. One: They don't spread easily. And two: They don't cause illness.
The study goes on to fault some perceptions of lice. Most notably, the bugs are not tied to a lack of cleanliness. A child can wash religiously and still get lice.
Misperceptions can gather strength when children are removed from school. A child's absence can get the gossip factory churning on the playground.
“Rumors start to spread,” Goldbaum said. “I think a child is much more stigmatized by that than by leaving them in school.”
Doctors have shifted their thinking about lice in the past decade, Goldbaum said. He compared the bugs to mosquitoes. Unlike mosquitoes, however, lice don't spread diseases such as malaria and West Nile virus.
Schools are catching up with current science.
Everett last year began softening its no-nit policy, which required children to be entirely free of lice and their eggs before returning to school. This year, it plans to abandon the practice of keeping children with lice out of school.
The Monroe School Board also is revising its no-nit policy. Its school board may discuss the issue Sept. 27.
The Edmonds School District plans to review and revise its policies this fall.
Despite the change, one thing remains the same. Children with lice still should be deloused.
There are many options. Prescription drugs and over-the-counter treatments such as Nix and Rid kill lice. Fine-toothed combs can be used to get rid of the bugs and their eggs. Head shaving is not among the recommended options.
While a child is being treated, parents have one other thing to do: Keep an eye out for the school bus.
“They should be right back in school,” he said.
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not a health risk
Head lice are a common problem but pose no health risks.
A definite pest: Head lice are parasitic bugs about the size of a sesame seed that suck blood from the human scalp. They don't spread disease.
Commonplace: About 6 million to 12 million infestations occur nationwide every year although there are concerns that those numbers are overestimated. Lice spread from person-to-person contact and by sharing items such as brushes, hats and pillows.
Treatment: Over-the-counter and prescription medications kill lice, while a fine-toothed comb is helpful when removing bugs and their eggs, also called nits.
(what's next, keeping children in the class when they are sick. they are wanting TOO much control of the children, can't trust them to the care of their parents, it is too damaging for them to miss class time, wow, what a lot of bologna!)