Docs: There’s no need to keep kids with lice home from school

It’s the start of the school year and, for many parents, that can mean the dreaded call from the school nurse that their child has head lice. At most schools, the child must be picked up from school immediately and can’t return until a check of her head shows no more nits, the little white eggs that lice leave behind. But new research disputes the no-nits policy and says even when children have live lice, by the time it’s discovered, they’ve already had it for a long time and there’s no reason to send her packing.

“Sending her home that minute makes absolutely no sense, since by the time they start scratching they’ve had the lice for the last three to four weeks,” says Dr. Barbara Frankowski, a pediatrician and one of the study’s lead authors, as well as immediate past chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health. “It just embarrasses the child and frustrates or angers the parents. … And it makes no medical sense.”

The no-nits policy makes even less sense, she says, since nits aren’t capable of jumping to another person’s head. Because nits can be difficult to eradicate in one sitting, they can keep children unnecessarily out of school for days. “You can’t keep the child out of school for two weeks-that’s crazy. If anyone had the gumption to challenge this legally, a school wouldn’t have a leg to stand on,” Frankowski says.

If your child does get lice, Frankowski recommends using an over-the-counter product and following the directions to apply a second dose the following week. Products such as petroleum jelly and Cetaphil can also be used and directions on how to use them can easily be found on the Internet, she says. Also, check your child’s head weekly, especially if she has recently attended a sleepover or camp, to head off infestations before they become severe.

And remember, this too shall pass.

“Just thank God this bug is just on your child and not in your child’s body. It’s not like a virus that causes a child to be violently ill,” Frankowski says. “Try as best you can to see the humor in the situation.”

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