Don’t Make Kids With Head Lice Leave School, Report Says

The American Academy of Pediatrics says children with head lice don’t need to be sent home from school.

Head lice infestations aren’t really a health hazard because of low transmission rates, a new report from the academy says, and sending students home “may stigmatize children suspected of having head lice.” The group says schools should instead offer education programs to help families understand how to manage head lice.

“Head lice are an unpleasant part of the human experience, but they can be successfully managed and are no reason for a child to miss school,” Dawn Nolt, MD, lead author of the report on head lice, said in a news release.

The report advises schools to abandon “no-nit” policies, which call for a student to be lice-free before being allowed back in class.

“A child or adolescent should not be restricted from school attendance because of head lice, given the low contagion within classrooms. ‘No-nit’ policies that exclude children or adolescents until all nits are removed may violate a child’s or adolescent’s civil liberties and are best addressed with legal counsel for schools,” the report says.

The report notes that lice almost always spread through head-to-head contact, not by “jumping” from one person to another. It’s possible for lice to spread by touching the belongings of a person with lice, such as combs or sports helmets, but the chances of that happening are very low, the academy said.

“Lice found on combs are likely to be injured or dead, and a louse is not likely to leave a healthy head unless there is a heavy infestation,” the report said.

The report lists new medications for treatment and gives an algorithm for managing head lice cases.

“The ideal treatment of head lice should be safe, free of toxic chemicals, readily available, simple to apply, effective, and inexpensive,” the report says.

This is the first updated guidance on head lice from the American Academy of Pediatrics since 2015. The CDC also says students with head lice don’t need to be sent home.

“Students diagnosed with live head lice do not need to be sent home early from school; they can go home at the end of the day, be treated, and return to class after appropriate treatment has begun. Nits may persist after treatment, but successful treatment should kill crawling lice,” the CDC says.

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