Head Lice Can Be a Public Health Opportunity

Head Lice Can Be a Public Health Opportunity

CombFirst! 2014-2015

Boston, MA (PRWEB) August 28, 2014

On September 1st, the National Pediculosis Association (NPA) kicks off its annual CombFirst! Back-to-School campaign. The goal is to help families and entire communities work together to control head lice calmly and effectively and without exposures to risky pesticides. The NPA and the American Academy of Pediatrics agree: “Children’s exposures to pesticides should be limited as much as possible.” http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/6/e1765.full

Head lice are often trivialized in the media, which present only a narrow view of their public health significance. Detailed articles are written about lice biology and the fact that head lice don’t jump or fly, but they fail to mention the health risks associated with chemical treatments or the benefits of being prepared through cooperative community-wide efforts. The mentality that head lice are only a nuisance keeps children unnecessarily vulnerable and chronically infested.

Treatments can be even more dangerous for children with certain pre-existing medical conditions and/or those using particular medications. Families with pregnant or nursing mothers should always be afforded the safe alternative of combing first and the benefits of a non-chemical approach. http://www.headlice.org/downloads/whynonchem.htm

The currently endemic state of head lice among children testifies to what occurs in the absence of a sound public health approach – when there is controversy, misinformation and no unified effort. The NPA offers a list of twelve of the most commonly made statements about head lice that erode trust, mislead parents, and put families in unnecessary jeopardy. http://www.headlice.org/news/2014/deceptive_dozen.htm

But the news isn’t all bad. Pediculosis (the medical term for an infestation of lice) can be a public health opportunity to teach important lessons that include communicable disease preparedness, responsible personal behaviors, environmental health and the importance of learning as much as we can about pharmaceutical remedies before we use them on our children.

Parents should be educated to vacuum the home and bedding rather than spray pesticides and not to follow one lice treatment with another. There are health risks inherent with the use of pesticides on or around children — risks that can increase dramatically when you follow one pesticide with another. http://www.headlice.org/special/alert.htm

Since its inception in 1983, the NPA has encouraged the nation’s health and childcare professionals to appreciate the benefits of combing over the use of chemicals for lice treatment. School administrators and nurses working with children in the country’s schools are in key positions to establish a CombFirst! community approach.

When this doesn’t occur, the NPA encourages parents to take the initiative. With or without a helpful school policy, parents can still develop the collective will to establish community-wide public health measures.

A Boston area mother did just this when she invited the parents of her child’s class to her home for a teach-in. She also invited a local nit-picking service provider who volunteered her skills to teach parents how to screen for head lice and nits, identify them accurately and successfully comb them out. An amazing 99% of the class parents attended with the result that the subject of head lice was no longer taboo or a problem for the families in this classroom.

This is a great CombFirst! model for other parent communities to follow. The best approach is one that is sensitive to children’s needs and respectful of parental values for health and wellness. Pediculosis – as with other communicable diseases – is a condition where the action or inaction of one family can either help protect the child community or put other families at greater risk of acquiring the problem.

For those who wonder, combing is indeed a scientifically reliable method to remove all lice and nits (their eggs) – which is another way of saying it can end an infestation. (“If you don’t get ‘em out, you’ve still got ‘em!”) In fact, researchers rely upon combing to collect their scientific data. It was the NPA’s development of the LiceMeister® comb that prompted the emergence of a professional nitpicker service industry that shifts the focus from killing lice and nits to removing them from the hair.

The NPA http://www.headlice.org/downloads/nonitpolicy.htm encourages each family to comb at home and to be proactive with routine screening, early detection, accurate identification and thorough removal of lice and nits. This is the most practical way to assure that children arrive at school free of lice and nits. And if a physician doesn’t suggest combing as a method for screening or offer it as a safe alternative to pesticide treatments for lice, ask why not.

The public health threats of AIDS, the Ebola virus, and emerging new diseases (to name a few) remind us of how ill-prepared we are to manage public health emergencies. Yet dealing with less threatening conditions such as head lice can provide a much needed opportunity to build consistent public health messages, teach communities how to work together successfully, and become prepared with the least amount of anxiety and disruption and the greatest margin of safety.

It’s time to stop dreading the “lice call” from school and time to start hearing its underlying message: “We care about this public health issue for children and we are here to help.”

For more information, please visit http://www.headlice.org or @theLiceMeister on Twitter.

About The National Pediculosis Association:

The National Pediculosis Association®, Inc. (NPA), established in 1983, is a 501 c 3 non-profit volunteer organization, including scientific advisors dedicated to protecting children and their environment from the misuse and abuse of prescription and over-the-counter pesticide treatments for lice and scabies. Proceeds from the NPA’s LiceMeister® comb allow the NPA to be self-sustaining and accomplish its mission. The NPA is the official sponsor of National Pediculosis Prevention Month kicked off each September to last the whole year long. CombFirst! 2014-2015 will be the NPA’s 29th annual campaign.

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