Although the CDC U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly discourages “no-nit” policies in schools, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), some schools and districts still enforce a no-nit policy. “No-Nit” means that when a child has head lice, he or she is not allowed back at school until all visible signs of lice and eggs/nits are gone.
The CDC points out that:
- Many nits are more than a quarter-inch from the scalp. Such nits are usually not viable and very unlikely to hatch to become crawling lice, or may be empty shells, also known as ‘casings.’
- Nits are cemented to hair shafts and are very unlikely to be transferred successfully to other people.
- The burden of unnecessary absenteeism to the students, families, and communities far outweighs the risks associated with head lice.
- Misdiagnosis of nits is very common during nit checks conducted by nonmedical personnel.
Speaking to Consumer Reports, Dawn H. Gouge, Ph.D., a public health entomologist at the University of Arizona, said that keeping kids with nits (or eggs) out of school has “absolutely no benefit to anybody.” Dr. Gouge noted that the AAP states that “most cases of head lice are acquired outside of school,” and that “no-nit policies are unjust and should be abandoned.” The cost of missed school for children and work for parents far outweighs any risks of head lice, according to the CDC and NASN.
Add to this NASN’s statement: “Studies have shown that control measures such as mass screenings for nits, have not been shown to have a significant effect on the incidence of head lice in a school community, nor have they shown to be cost-effective.”
No-nit policies arose partly due to the social stigma falsely associating head lice with poor hygiene—a myth that has also been debunked by the CDC, AAP, and NASN. But parents still tend to panic about head lice. A OnePoll survey of 2,000 U.S. parents, conducted in conjunction with Lice Clinics of America, found that 52 percent of parents feel judged by other moms and dads when their child comes home with head lice.
Parental dread and fear of head lice may also be due to the difficulty of getting rid of the bugs. Traditional lice treatment products—when they work—require weeks of application and hours of tedious nitpicking. It’s been widely known for many years that most of these products are now ineffective because head lice have become resistant to the pesticides that they use.
“Sometimes called ‘super lice,’ many of the pests in the U.S. and other parts of the world have developed resistance to over-the-counter lice treatments that contain certain pesticides, notably permethrin and pyrethrin,” according to Consumer Reports. “In a 2016 study on this topic, scientists found that 98 percent of the lice they evaluated—collected from 138 sites in 48 states—had a gene mutation indicating possible pesticide resistance.”
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