Beacon Journal staff writer
Akron schoolchildren diagnosed with head lice may soon be able to return to school as early as the day after treatment, even if lice eggs remain in the hair.
The district now keeps students out of school until all the eggs, known as nits, have been removed.
The Akron school board heard the first of three readings of a policy on Monday that would allow children to return to school even if they have nits.
The Summit County Health Department recommends that students with head lice stay home until after treatment with a medicated shampoo and all nits are removed.
But the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses discourage ''no nits'' policies because they're not necessary to prevent the spread of head lice and they keep otherwise healthy kids out of school too long.
The AAP (http://www.aap.org) reports anecdotal evidence of some kids missing weeks of school because of such policies some miss so much they have to repeat a grade.
''However, most researchers agree that no-nit policies should be abandoned,'' according to the AAP's head lice policy, which was last updated in August. ''International guidelines established in 2007 for the effective control of head lice infestations stated that no-nit policies are unjust and should be discontinued, because they are based on misinformation rather than objective science.''
Board member Lisa Mansfield said she talked to Superintendent David James about the district's policy after reading the AAP policy.
''I told Mr. James, 'I don't want to be the lice lady,' '' Mansfield said. ''But it's important. It's too many days missed for something that's no longer contagious.''
She acknowledged that the Summit County Health Department still appears to advocate no-nit policies.
''When we read that, we said it's not in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics,'' Mansfield said. ''Nobody wants to be sending kids back to school when they're not ready, but if they've been treated and you know that there's no live lice, then it's not contagious.''
The proposed APS policy would require that parents be contacted to remove children found to have live lice.
The child could return to school after their hair is treated with a head lice shampoo that kills live lice and most eggs. Parents would have to fill out a treatment verification form describing the treatment.
Parents also would have to indicate on the form that they've started to manually remove the nits which are cemented to hair shafts with a stubborn glue-like substance and treat household items to be sure the lice don't come back.
Head lice are common among children ages 3 to 12. Unlike body lice, head lice do not spread disease. It mainly causes itching and possible sores from itching, which can become infected.
Live lice crawl, but they don't jump or fly. It's generally spread from little heads being too close together.
Although a social stigma remains, head lice can affect any child regardless of cleanliness or social status. Removing lice from a child's head and home environment can be a frustrating, time-consuming task.
Once the live lice are dead, there may be nits that remain in the hair, which have been the subject of a longstanding debate.
The National Pediculosis Association, a nonprofit organization concerned about the safety of head lice treatments, advocates for no-nit policies to make sure that lice don't return to school.
''Those who judge enforcement to be 'overzealous' may not consider the broader public health values and preferences of the community,'' according to a statement on the organization's Web site, http://www.headlice.org.
However, the National Association of School Nurses notes that nits more than a quarter of an inch away from the scalp are usually not viable and may actually be empty shells and urges schools to relax their no-nit requirements.
''The burden of unnecessary absenteeism to the students, families and communities far outweighs the risks associated with head lice,'' according to a statement on its Web site, http://nasn.org.