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Head lice

What are head lice?

  • Head lice are small insects with six legs usually the size of a sesame seed (the seeds on burger buns).
  • They live on or very close to the scalp and don’t wander far down the hair shafts for very long.
  • They can only live on human beings; you can’t catch them from animals.
  • Nits are not the same thing as lice. Lice are the insects which move around the head. Nits are egg cases laid by lice, stuck on to hair shafts; they are smaller than a pin head and are pearly white.
  • If you have nits it doesn’t always mean that you have head lice. When you have got rid of all the lice, the nits will stay stuck to the hair until it grows out.
  • You only have head lice if you can find a living, moving louse (not a nit) on the scalp.
  • Anybody can get head lice.
  • Head lice infections are caught from close family and friends in the home and community, not from the school.
  • Spread of head lice requires direct head to head contact. They can’t swim, fly, hop or jump.

Prevention - can you stop them?

  • The best way to stop infection is for families to learn how to check their own heads. This way they can find any lice before they have a chance to breed.
  • Instruct children not to share hats, combs, brushes, etc.
  • All bedding, towels, and clothing from the infected individual should be cleaned with soap and hot water and placed in a dryer for at least 20 minutes to help kill any remaining lice. Dry-clean all clothes that need to be dry-cleaned. Seal the infested individual's stuffed toys in a plastic bag and leave them for 10 days to allow all lice to die of starvation. Dispose of or soak combs and hairbrushes in rubbing alcohol or the medicated shampoo used to kill lice. Throw out any hair accessories, such as hair elastics and ribbons. Thoroughly vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture.
  • Pets cannot become infested with head and body lice, so no precaution is required.

What are the policies at school?

  • Students may return to school the day after treatment for head lice as long as there are no live lice upon re-inspection by designated school personnel.
  • Students will be re-inspected by designated school personnel 14 days after initial treatment to make sure there are no live head lice.
  • Students found to have live head lice will be excluded from school.
  • Consult your healthcare provider if you are having difficulties getting rid of your child’s head lice.

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DOH/DOE School Changes No Head Lice/No Nit Policy

The NYC Department of Health/Department of Education School Health is implementing a No Head Lice Policy that allows students with nits in school. The Union met with School Health to strongly object to the change in this policy. Since the current No Nits/ No Head Policy is a policy and not a public health regulation or part of the UFT Contract, School Health can change the policy. School Health plans to finalize the No Head Lice Policy before the end of the 2006-2007 school year. Their rationale for changing the policy is:

“Head lice are commonly found in children 3-12 years of age. While head lice may be unsightly and embarrassing, head lice do not pose a health hazard, do not transmit disease and are not a sign of uncleanliness. The best way to prevent unwanted spread of head lice is through prompt treatment. Studies have shown that school-wide screenings for nits is time-consuming, costly and more often than not forces children to miss school unnecessarily because evidence of nits does not mean head lice infection. Under the new policy children with nits will be re-examined in 10-14 days to see if there are lice” School health said they consulted with other school districts such that have implemented the No Head Lice Policy, including Los Angeles and Chicago, and there have been no adverse impacts.

School Health agreed to do the following:

  • Publicize the new No Head Lice Policy in the principals’ weekly and strongly recommend that the principal designate non-classroom staff to inspect students
  • Prepare a standardized training presentation for the school nurses who in turn will train administrators, parent coordinators and staff

The UFT Safety and Health Department will monitor the impact of this new No Head Lice Policy in schools.

Memo: Management of Head lice in Schools