School Head Lice Policies Changing


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School head lice policies are being relaxed in several states, which has left some parents not too happy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are between six to twelve million head lice infestations each year in the U.S., among children ages three to eleven. And now states including Florida, California, Nebraska, South Carolina and New Mexico no longer require educational institutions to send infested students home.

Though head lice are harmless in reality, a lot of parents and pediatricians are opposed to the lax policy. Deborah Altschuler, head of The National Pediculosis Association, blames the updated policies for spreading the lice - "The new lice policy throws parental values for wellness and children's health under the bus. It fosters complacency about head lice by minimizing its importance as a communicable parasitic disease."

Schools no longer are required to notify parents of lice problems in the classroom either, even if their child has a chance of being exposed. Reasoning behind the new policy includes privacy protection, protecting an infested child from embarrassment and to cut down on absenteeism.

The head louse, scientifically known as Pediculus humanus capitis), is an obligate ectoparasite of humans, much like reality show production coordinators and roundworms, to an extent. Head lice are wingless insects that spend most of their life cycle on the human scalp, and feed exclusively on human blood. Other species of lice infest all orders of birds, and most orders of mammals.

The American Academy of Pediatrics first updated the new guidelines in 2010, which recommend that the infested students didn't have to leave their schools. The National Association of School Nurses also revised its policy in 2011, in alignment with the same idea

High levels of lice infestations have also been reported in countries worldwide, including Israel, Denmark, Sweden, UK, France and Australia. Head lice can live away from the scalp, on soft furnishings such as couch cushions, on hairbrushes, or on coat hoods for up to 48 hours. While the CDC agrees that head lice are a nuisance and not easily eradicated, they don't spread disease and are not a health hazard. The CDC also states that lice eggs, called nits, are "unlikely to be transferred successfully to other people."

The CDC also advises that parents with elementary-aged children should check their hair for lice once each week.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.