Beth Haines, the District 165 school nurse, isn’t afraid of a little head lice.
Her goal is to get a child back into the classroom as soon a possible after the lice, which are small parasites that live on the human scalp, are noticed.
That’s part of the reason that the Marengo-based district does not follow a no-nit policy, which would require that before children return to class they be free of all the eggs that lice leave on the scalp.
“We’ve dealt with it many times and would prefer to keep our children in school and learning, as long as they have been treated and continue to follow the treatment regimen.” Haines said. “Those nits are extremely difficult to get out, and I don’t care how good you are at nit-picking – literally – you will always miss one.”
Now the American Academy of Pediatrics is urging other schools to do the same. A recent report from the organization says that schools should abandon their no-nit policies.
“Head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene and, in contrast to body lice, are not responsible for the spread of any disease,” states a release from the academy. “No healthy child should be excluded from or miss school because of head lice.”
Haines said that in fact, as long as the live bugs have been treated and treatment continues every three days, families can be done with the problem in a week.
However, not all districts share District 165’s philosophy. At least not yet.
Locally, Carpentersville-based District 300, Huntley District 158 and Woodstock District 200 are among those in the county that still have no-nit policies.
But Lisa Tate, District 200 health services coordinator, said it was something that her district planned to examine.
“You have to do a lot of education before you change a policy like that,” she said. “Your teachers are even going to have to understand why students are going to be allowed to stay in school, and your parents.”
Part of the problem is the stigma that society has placed on lice, which often causes people to overreact.
“Our society needs to realize that people don’t contract head lice because their home is dirty or they have a personal hygiene problem,” Tate said. “Anyone can contract head lice.”
Karen Deering, co-owner of Barrington-based Lice-nse to Kill, echoed that sentiment. The company provides an in-home head lice removal for $90 an hour.
“All they’re really looking for is a just a human host,” said Deering, a registered nurse. “It has nothing to do with whether you’re rich, or poor, dirty or clean. They don’t care.
She and her partner, Pam Vaccher, spend hours parting clients’ hair into sections and meticulously going through with a fine-toothed comb and picking out the lice and the nits. The process can be stressful and time consuming.
“When you see what people go through with the schools... your heart goes out to them,” Vaccher said.
For their part, both say the job has yet to lead to a lice infestation for either of them, a sign of how hard it is to contract.
Deering said she believed that the stigma was what leads to its spread, because people never want to tell anyone they have lice.
“In our opinion, if one of the classrooms has it, the entire school should be notified, just so everyone can be checked,” Deering said. “If people talked more, I actually think that it would be eradicated a little faster.”
What are head lice?
Lice are tiny, about the size of a strawberry seed, but they can be up to 1/8 inch (3 millimeters) in size.
Lice eggs, or nits, on hair shafts resemble tiny pussy willow buds. Nits can be mistaken for dandruff, but unlike dandruff, they can’t be easily brushed out of hair.
The lice, which develop on your scalp, are easiest to see at the nape of your neck and over your ears.
Losing the lice
Tips for getting rid of lice in the home:
• Wash all bedding, clothing and coats. If bed pillows are inexpensive, throw them away. If not, wash them in hot water and dry with high heat. You will need to wash your bedding every night for two weeks.
• Soak family combs, brushes and barrettes in hot water.
• Bag all items that cannot be washed for at least two weeks. Examples: Stuffed animals, decorative pillows, hats, etc.
• Vacuum all carpets, bedding, furniture and the car. Throw away vacuum bags in a sealed garbage bag as soon as you are done.
• Spray mattresses, furniture and cars with a solution of equal parts water and vinegar, with a few drops of tea tree oil as a precautionary measure.
To prevent lice
Teach your child not to share the following things with others:
• Hats, helmets and head gear for any sport. Buy your own, if possible.
• Combs, brushes and hair accessories.
• Clothing and play clothes.
• Pillows, blankets and stuffed animals.
• Girls should pull back their hair in braids or ponytail, then spray lightly with hair spray.
• Do not lay your coats with others at school, functions or parties. Bag coats during the school year, when lice infestations are most likely to occur.
Source: Lice-nse to Kill Inc., http://licensetokill.org.