Should Head Lice Keep a Kid Home From School?

Want to see someone squirm and get all kinds of nervous? Start talking about head lice, and let the itching begin.

Nothing makes folks twitchier than the mention of these little guys, including me. Dealing with them as a teacher was easy peasy; once a child had them, they took their infested little head and went home. Dealing with them as a parent is a whole other ball game.

Luckily (and it really is luck, I understand that) we haven’t had to play the lice game yet at my house, but ‘tis the season, and some of my mom friends have not been so fortunate.

The topic came up after a meeting last week, and these veteran lice and nit handlers were over the initial OMG, but I wasn’t. I’m still a lice virgin, so you’ll understand how I got even more freaked when they told me they didn’t really think the ‘send kids home’ rule was a good idea, and they had research to prove it. Because I‘m a sucker for research, they had me at hello.

So, they’re right.  According to a 2010 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics the problem isn’t the lice, it’s us. So what are we doing wrong?

For starters, we’re misdiagnosing. About half of children sent home and treated for head lice either no longer had them (following treatment) or never had them to begin with. In fact, a study conducted by Richard J. Pollack of Harvard School of Public Health found that out of 600 samples of lice submitted, two thirds weren’t lice at all but rather dirt, scabs, skin cells, or other equally icky but not lice junk. The same study found that lice treatments are applied more frequently on non-infested kids than ones who are infected.

Also, we’re kind of babies about the whole thing. After all, lice don’t carry diseases, or cause physical harm except for the mild itching thing. The perception of ‘only dirty or unclean people with slovenly housekeeping get lice’ theory is bunk too. Lice go where they see a free, yummy ride and crib to lay their eggs. Families and schools get up in arms whenever an outbreak occurs, but at the end of the day, it’s not a health threat, just a hassle.

Here’s the crux: The Academy concluded that, based on the research results, children should not be sent home from or disallowed to attend school because of lice. They also recommend routine screenings be nixed as well. Kids are missing too much school because of misdiagnosing.

And that’s kind of where I go goofy, cuz yeah, it’s inconvenient. I don’t want my child to have it, or me either for that matter, and I don’t want to have to zip lock my linens and pay for lice treatments and keep scratching my head like I’ve been doing for the last twenty minutes writing this piece.

But, that’s coming from the ‘not yet infected’ camp. I'm probably only one phone call and a series of missed school days away from batting for the other team.  Either way, I no longer feel totally safe. My hair stylist told me the most common place for lice infections to occur was movie theatres. Thank goodness Netflix got their stuff figured out.

By Sharon Linde, Education Blogger for SmartParenting

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