Lice Shouldn't Keep Kids from School, Doctors Say

Head lice are annoying, but they don't actually make people sick, and children with the condition should not be kept away from school, according to new guidelines from a leading group of pediatricians.

The guidelines, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, say that although head lice can cause itching, they are not known to spread disease, and the insects are not very likely to spread from one child to another within a classroom. Rather, it is usually direct head-to-head contact that spreads lice.

For this reason, "no healthy child should be excluded from school or allowed to miss school time because of head lice or nits," the guidelines say. (Nits are the eggs of head lice.) Most doctors who care for children agree that school policies requiring children to be free from nits before returning to school should be abandoned, the AAP says.

In addition, screening kids at schools for head lice does not reduce the occurrence of the condition in classrooms over time, so routine screenings at schools should be discouraged, the AAP says. However, parents should still regularly check their children for head lice, and school nurses may check children who have symptoms of lice. 

Once a person is diagnosed with head lice, everyone in the family should be checked for the condition, the AAP says. Lice are usually transmitted by direct contact, so it's less likely that people will get lice from touching household items, but it is still wise to clean all hair-care items and bedding used by the person who had lice, the guidelines say.

It is recommended to teach children not to share items such as combs, brushes and hats, although such precautions are unlikely to prevent all cases of head lice, the AAP says.