New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urge schools to abandon their “no-nit” policies and permit children with head lice to stay in class.

“No child should be allowed to miss valuable school time because of head lice,” the researchers reported (Pediatrics. 2010;126:392-403).

Nits are the empty casings of lice eggs, but the term is sometimes used to refer to the actual eggs. The panel stated that exclusion of children with nits alone would have resulted in many of those youngsters missing school unnecessarily. Head-lice infestations have been shown to have low contagion in classrooms. Lice crawl; they cannot hop or fly (although some reports maintain that combing dry hair can eject an adult louse more than a meter from an infested scalp). Lice are usually transmitted through direct contact with the head of an infested individual. Those found on combs are usually injured or dead, and most healthy lice won’t leave a healthy head unless there is a heavy infestation. Unlike body lice, head lice do not carry any disease agent.

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The new document updates treatment and management guidelines made in a 2002 AAP clinical report.