The Issue - No-nit Policies

Thursday, April 04, 2002

WHAT WE'VE HEARD This is one of the biggest fights of all. Should children be required to be nit-free before they return to school? Pollack says he has yet to see a shred of evidence that no-nit policies have any appreciable effect on the incidence or prevalence of lice. "In my experience, these policies are unjustified, misapplied and cause much greater harm than the lice themselves. Head lice are merely a nuisance. The no-nit policies deprive kids of educational opportunity and are a financial burden to the parents." Karen Tilley, president of a Canadian company called Lice-Busters, scoffs at this: "You'll notice that the people who are saying lice are just a nuisance aren't the people who are dealing with them," says the former Toronto resident, whose company operates a toll-free lice information service, sells lice removal kits and counsels people to stop using louse pesticides. "It seems to me that the removal of no-nit policies is a good way to ensure that people keep buying the pediculicide shampoos, which often don't work very well to begin with." Altschulers position is that getting nits out is a key aspect of head-lice ontrol. "We don't really like the term no-nit policy," she says. "This isn't really about excluding children from school. It's about setting a standard that puts education first, before outbreaks, and encourages frequent screening. If most families use this approach, then the system can be there to assist the kids whose parents don't have the resources to do it." WHAT WE KNOW Not all nits will produce lice � some are "dead" and some are already hatched. The question is: Can you tell the difference? It only takes a few viable nits to keep the cycle alive. As for no-nit policies, they probably would help reduce the spread of lice if they were supported by competent diagnosis (which appears not to be the case) and treatment.

BOTTOM LINE Removing as many nits as possible seems like the one way to ensure lice and all their potential progeny are gone. Proper equipment is important.

Here's what to do if you get that dreaded note from school: Make sure it's really lice. Ask an experienced lice checker to go over your child's wet head with a lice comb. If you decide to use a lice shampoo, follow the directions carefully (including the second treatment). Don't leave the product on longer than indicated and don't use it over and over and over.

Finally, use the shampoo with the understanding that there's a significant chance that it might not kill all the lice. Herculean efforts to eliminate lice from clothing, bedding and furniture (apart from normal washing and vacuuming) are most likely a waste of time, since lice can't live for more than 24 hours without a blood meal and can't jump or fly.

Get the lice and nits out by hand. "Until you manually remove these things, they're going to stay in your hair," says Deborah Altschuler. "This approach is less noxious than repeated chemical treatments and, if done properly, more likely to be successful." The best tool, according to Altschuler is the LiceMeister, a nit comb which originated in Germany. "We were skeptical at first. We've had so many products sent to us," she says. "But when we finally got around to trying it, we were blown away with what the comb pulled out." What it didn't pull out was hair. The comb is made from highly polished stainless steel; it has longer, more tightly spaced teeth and goes through more hair with each pass.

If picking out nits and lice by hand sounds like too much work � it can easily take an hour or more every day � some parents now have the option of hiring someone to do the job. The two most prominent Canadian nitpickers are Karen Tilley and Dawn Mucci. Tilley began by treating a friend and before long was helping three or more families a week. Mucci has now taken over the in-home part of the business, called the LiceSquad. If you live close to Toronto, Mucci or one other associates will come to your home and treat your family for $55 an hour, plus travel. Tilley now concentrates on her toll-free lice information line and the marketing other kits (which start at $55). The most popular one sells for $135 and includes Tilley's own essential-oil-based lice treatment, a magnifying visor, a booklet and the LiceMeister. If lice outbreaks are chronic in your child's classroom, screen your own child regularly every week. This may help you catch an infestation before it gets out of control.

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