Managing Head Lice Safely - No Nit Policies (NoNit018)

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Managing Head Lice Safely - No Nit Policies

by Barb Ogg, PhD, Extension Educator

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Head Lice Adults and Nit
Figure 1. Adult head lice are
1/10 to 1/8" long, tan to grayish-white.

Head Lice (Louse) Egg (Nit)
Figure 2. Eggs (called nits) are glued
to individual hair strands about
1/2-inch from the scalp

"No-Nit" Policies Discouraged in Schools

Two important associations – The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses – advocate "no-nit" policies instituted by schools should be discontinued. These groups maintain there is only a small risk to others when children have nits in their hair because in-school transmission is rare, although it may be more common among younger-age children where there is more head-to-head contact. The following facts support their positions:

  • Female lice cement eggs to strands of hair about 1/4-inch from the scalp, which happens to be the best temperature for hatching. Because an egg is firmly attached to the hair shaft, it cannot be transferred to other people. The chance of getting lice from children with eggs is remote, even if eggs are viable.

  • Newly hatched nymphs are likely to stay on the head; adult lice are more contagious and likely to transfer through head-to-head contact.

  • Misdiagnosis of nits is common when conducted by nonmedical personnel. Even experts use a good microscope to identify lice eggs. Viable eggs are brown. Once hatched, the spent eggshell, the nit, is white. Nits are easily confused with tiny white globs of hair product like gel, dandruff and hair casts.

  • Nits found more than ½-inch from the scalp have probably either hatched or died.

  • Head lice are a nuisance, but do not transmit diseases. The burden of unnecessary absenteeism to students, their families and communities far outweighs any risks associated with head lice.

Head lice screening programs have not been shown to significantly reduce head lice in schools and have not been shown to be cost effective. By the time a child with an active lice infestation has been identified, he or she may have been infested for a month or more and the additional time spent at school poses little additional risk of transmission to others. Schools should wait until the end of the day to notify parents of their child's head lice infestation.

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Additional Resources:

"Removing Head Lice Safely," an eight-minute DVD/video demonstrating head lice management in an easy-to-understand format. The video features highly-magnified live lice, a combing demonstration on a child and actions to help prevent re-infestations. The video and accompanying materials were developed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension and State of Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. These videos are available in English, Spanish, Arabic and Russian languages. English, Spanish and Arabic can be viewed on-line FREE.

New ResourceOrdering "Removing Head Lice Safely": English, Spanish, Arabic and Russian language versions of "Removing Head Lice Safely" now all available on one DVD for $10. This Telly Award-winning series also includes the Quick Guide to Removing Head Lice Safely with step-by-step instructions for proper combing". You can still purchase the popular Videotapes for $3 each in a variety of languages and formats. Discounts on orders of 10 or more DVD's and/or videotapes to the same address. Brochure and Details

"Quick Guide for Removing Head Lice Safely," an educational resource guide which provides, practical, simple directions on head lice control for families. Available in English, Spanish, Arabic Languages.

Head Lice Resource You Can Trust Web site - University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County. Photos, video, educational resources.

UNL Extensions Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in Schools Web site provides low-toxic methods of controlling pests in schools.

Use of commercial and trade names does not imply approval or constitute endorsement by UNL Extension.

Educational ResourcesReturn for More Head Lice Educational Resource

The information on this Web site was updated April 2014 and is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

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