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Children's Health

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Parents, Schools Overreact to Head Lice, Expert Says


Pollack tells WebMD that almost everyone who submitted a sample believed they had active lice and were using treatments on themselves and their children. "Many of these children had been recently excluded from school," he says.

"We found, interestingly, that if you don't have lice, you are just as likely to use one or multiple over-the- counter [lice treatments] than if you do have lice," says Pollack.

Pollack and his colleagues also found that parents, school nurses, and teachers were the most accurate at spotting lice -- but failed to distinguish active from inactive cases just as often. Surprisingly, only 12% of the samples sent in by physicians contained active lice.

Pollack says he doesn't believe the "No Nits" policy is a good one because even a dead egg is seen as a bad egg and is enough to keep a child out of school. And treatment, he says, should be reserved only for cases of confirmed, active infestation.

"What I am saying is this: These things do not generally cause disease ... therefore, it is not a medical issue, it is not a public-health issue. Why are we invoking health policy if it is not a health issue?" he asks. "My view is a very unpopular one."

Pollack is certainly right about that. Deborah Z. Altschuler tells WebMD, "Yes, parents need help; yes, they don't always know what they are looking for; yes, they sometimes do the wrong thing. But no, they don't want kids to keep lice." Altschuler is the president of the National Pediculosis Association, a nonprofit organization that educates parents and others about head lice.

"I can appreciate what [Pollack] has to say," Carol Steltenkamp, MD, tells WebMD. "But both from a physician standpoint and as well as a mother of school-aged children, I think his suggestions are not reasonable " Steltenkamp is an assistant professor of pediatrics and the associate chief of staff at the University of Kentucky Medical Center.

"Medically this is not a problem, my physician mind tells me," Steltenkamp says. "But when my child got it, my mother mind freaked out. I knew that it was OK and nobody was going to die or get a horrible disease, but it was nasty!"

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