New Lice Recommendation Has Parents Scratching Their Heads

In a surprising recommendation, pediatricians say kids with lice shouldn't stay home from school, and they explain the best treatment and prevention methods.

The Short of It

It's enough to freak any parent out: Someone in your kid's classroom has head lice. Many of us have had notes sent home telling us to look for signs of the little parasites and to keep our child home if they have them. But, the notes home may end. And in fact, according to a new recommendation, kids with these creepy crawlers should be welcomed in school with everyone else.

The Lowdown

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced its new policy, which may raise some parents' eyebrows, Monday.

"Most cases of head lice are acquired outside of school," says the announcement. "The AAP continues to recommend that a healthy child should not be restricted from attending school because of head lice or nits (eggs). Pediatricians are encouraged to educate schools and communities that no-nit policies are unjust and should be abandoned. Children can finish the school day, be treated and return to school."

The recommendation is based on a clinical report published in the "Journal of Pediatrics," which found that only a third of kids with five or more nits actually developed an active infestation. Taking those kids out of school would have been unnecessary.

"In addition, head lice infestations have been shown to have low contagion in classrooms," says the report. (The report also said the bugs don't hop or jump—who spread that nasty rumor?)

Researchers found that the best way to treat nits is to use an over-the-counter treatment containing 1 percent permethrin or pyrethrins. If there's a chronic lice problem, use an OTC pediculicide and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Then reapply it at Day 9, and if necessary, at Day 18. If that doesn't work, your child should see a pediatrician.

The Upshot

This busts a big lice myth we've all come to believe: That your child is mostly likely to contract—or spread—lice while at school. And while this might worry some parents (anyone who's been through an infestation knows it isn't pretty), it may be a relief to not have to take days off work or have their child miss valuable school lessons when a few nits are found.

Head lice can't be completely prevented, but you can lower your child's risk by teaching them to never share combs, brushes or hats. Check your child regularly for signs of nits, and if one family member gets them, everyone in the household should be checked. Anyone with nits or an active infestation should be treated right away.