Recently some folks have changed their views on whether or not lice should be treated, with many deciding that lice, in fact, should not be treated, nor should kids be sent home from school until lice is eliminated.
Their reasoning is that lice is not a health hazard, that lice isn’t a disease and aren’t disease carriers, and that, as lice is a fairly common condition affecting humans having nothing to do with cleanliness or a reflection on personal hygiene, that no one should be isolated if they have lice.
Relaxed about lice at school
What started me thinking about this was reading an article in Slate titled, “Got lice? Come on in! My kids’ school lets kids with head lice stay in class. What a great policy!” And no, the title wasn’t sarcastic! 😉
The article fairly and successfully pointed out two sides to the argument while maintaining that most scientists agree that lice aren’t a disease. The article also pointed out that while lice seldom spread in schools, they are more likely to spread in situations like sleepovers and sleep away camps. The author, Dan Kois, writes,
What I wondered after talking with all these experts is whether lice even need to be treated at all. Treatment’s expensive, it can expose your kids to pesticides, it takes forever, and all it does is rid your child of a basically harmless pest—and then only until the inevitable next time it shows up. I certainly didn’t get any of the experts I spoke with to come right out and say that you can pretty much ignore lice. They all note that parents want their children to be lice-free, regardless of whether the lice pose any actual threat. That’s what I often found myself muttering in years past, as my wife and I spent work days and weeknights washing and combing and washing and combing the heads of perfectly healthy children. In an educational environment in which intervention is the default, a message from a school district announcing that its new policy is for everyone to just relax is extremely welcome. My kids need to be in school to learn, and to play with their friends, and to build their bright futures, and to stay out of my hair. I don’t need them sent home because of the harmless things crawling in theirs.
Camp is different
Folks might be tempted to think the same thing for camps, even though lice does actually spread at camp — and sometimes quick as lightning! So if some people are starting to think “Who cares? Just relax about it,” why does camp still care about screening for lice on site? Or why should we care?
At Camp Alleghany we have a Zero Tolerance Policy on head lice/nits. Part of the reason is out of pure discomfort. Kois’s article basically skirted over the fact that the person suffering from head lice doesn’t enjoy anything about it. And girls? Even the most ardent budding entomologist at camp prefers her insects under a microscope and not in her pigtails or on her pillow.
And hello — nits and lice itch!
When parents and caregivers emphasize the logic behind why lice aren’t dangerous that helps tamp down panic and worry for the child, but we can’t stop a child from feeling, “Yuck, this is gross!” If she flees from spiders, dodges bees and beetles, and hates the lowly yet remarkable worm, there’s some chance that no matter what we say, a child is still going to want those lice gone toute de suite.
So even if treatment is routine, and there’s no disease or danger present, the process is annoying for the sufferer.
Secondly, because lice does spread quickly in camps it’s a short ride from a few nits on one head to an outbreak across the whole camp. Head lice spreads so FAST in an environment like ours, and if it’s not caught (even just one person) soon we’re inundated.
All of a sudden we’re dealing with hair treatments, washing clothing and bedding, and checking every camper all over again in multiple cycles in deference to the delay between nits and lice. It takes so much time and energy away from our activities and programming, and it’s physically/mentally/emotionally exhausting, not to mention costly!
No one comes to camp for that — they come for fresh air, sunshine, fun times, activities, and friends. If camp is constantly interrupted for mass treatments it is a downer for everyone.
I do want to point out that both companies we’ve hired to screen and treat for nits and head lice use all-natural products that are very safe and synthetically chemical-free. Prior to the new companies most people and organizations were using harsher products. In fact, the summer I was pregnant with Mason I couldn’t help with any of the treatments because I wasn’t supposed to be around the chemicals! But we exclusively use all-natural treatment products now.
Going home with unwanted guests
Imagine if we didn’t treat the lice at camp because of an attitude that it’s “no big deal?”
No matter how educated on the realities of lice any parent is (and many folks are not up-to-date about lice facts, and among those who are, long-standing myths and stigmas — although unfair — persist), he or she will experience a host of feelings, most of them unpleasant, if what little Susie brings back from camp is a case of lice. Parents are then saddled with the responsibility and cost of doing the whole lice treatment thing for not only Susie, but if not caught in time, for the rest of the family, too.
We don’t want that to be our postcard from camp.
A further word about stigma
At camp we don’t view head lice with any of the cultural myths or stigmas and we work hard to communicate the correct facts and to eliminate any lingering stigmas.
I feel like there will always be a stigma attached to it, but I wish there wasn’t. Campers unfortunately get upset and embarrassed, and the parents are embarrassed, and I want them to know that we never think poorly of them, or differently about them, or even view it any way other than just, “we need to treat this immediately to avoid any spreading.”
Lice just happen, and we screen so that we’re treating maybe 5-6 kids or counselors on opening day, instead of 30 people a week later.
In fact several years, before our move to using screening companies, we did have lice outbreaks. Here’s what one of the campers, Chloë Cook, who had nits a few summers ago, had to say about it,
I actually didn’t care that I had them because I got to get a 30 minute head massage with the treatment and to have each of my hairs individually combed out! I loved it, it was like being pampered! Ha ha! 🙂
But besides that no one cared. I mean if you had them or didn’t have them no one treated you any differently. It was literally no big deal. It could be annoying if your head itched or whatever, and you had to think about where your head was all the time, but it didn’t change any of our friendships or any of the good stuff about camp.
Pro-active head live control
For a few years we have used a professional lice screening company, most recently, the Nit Fairies, based outside of Richmond, Virginia. Beverly Mann is the owner and she’s simply fantastic to work with. She’s a mom of several kids and is very professional but so kind and gentle with the kids. Her team screened all counselors upon arrival, and then all campers on each of our opening days. They also treated anyone who came in with lice or nits. We had a lot of positive feedback from parents about this team, so they’re coming back again this year.
In the case of camp, which is essentially a three-week slumber party, aggressive prevention is really the best approach!
–Elizabeth Dawswon Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls