Few phrases can make a parent recoil faster than “head lice.” Nobody wants their child anywhere near someone who has been diagnosed with them or—heaven forbid—have to treat a case crawling on her kiddo's scalp. But guess what? Head lice are actually no big deal. Yes, they are tiny, wingless parasites that like to live in hair and off the blood in our scalps (seriously gross). But, head lice are not an actual health threat, and public health experts around the country want us all to calm down, breathe, and not overreact when our child comes home with that dreaded note from the daycare center or school nurse declaring: "there has been a case of head lice in your child's classroom."
“If your child gets head lice, stay calm,” says Barbara Frankowski, M.D., a pediatrician in Burlington, VT and former chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on School Health. Coming home with a case of them is as inevitable as scraped knees or the common cold, says Dr. Frankowski. “It’s a normal risk of being a healthy, active social child.”
In July 2010, a clinical report for the AAP, co-authored by Dr. Frankowski, issued new guidelines for schools, stating that since lice don’t spread disease, and since by the time a case of lice has been discovered it’s already been present for at least a month, no child should miss school because of them and recommended that no-nit policies be abandoned. (Typically a child is sent home as soon as head lice are discovered and cannot return to the classroom until he has been treated and the nurse has checked his head for nits, the small dandruff-like egg casings that stick to the hair.) This has proven controversial, with some parents and teachers saying that a child with lice disrupts the classroom – despite attempts at confidentiality -- and that an infected child should be shielded from teasing by being kept home. It’s yet to be seen how many schools will adopt the AAP’s guidelines.
The upshot is this: if your child gets lice, don’t panic. Instead read our guide to spotting and stopping the buggers – without bugging out.