New strain of lice could put schools in scratchy situation

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — A study that suggests a new strain of lice may be resistant to common drugstore treatments comes as children are headed back to school, and some districts have loosened their attendance policies over students with the minuscule bugs.

A Southern Illinois University Edwardsville scientist worked on a mutated lice study, which was presented this month at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society. The study found that 104 out of the 109 lice populations tested had high levels of gene mutations, which have been linked to resisting a family of insecticides, including the active ingredient in common lice treatments sold at stores.

The mutant head lice were found in many states, including Missouri and Illinois, and could be contributing to the success of Lice Busters, where staff removed head lice last week from a mother and her two daughters, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ( ) reported.

The insects were found during a routine back-to-school check conducted at their private school in Clayton. They did an over-the-counter shampoo that night, but there were still some stubborn nits left in their hair.

Many public schools now follow guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which advises that no child should miss school, because of head lice. As a result, a number of schools have ended their no-nit policies that didn't allow a student to attend class if lice eggs were found on his or her head.

The Missouri School Boards' Association recommends that a student found with live head lice shouldn't return to school for 24 hours to allow for treatment. But it says districts shouldn't exclude otherwise healthy students from school if only eggs are found.

Health experts say head lice aren't a sign of poor habits, as the pests prefer clean hair. But those who work at Lice Busters and others say the social stigma attached to the lice remains, that only those living in dirty homes get infestations. They say children and parents who turn to the business to get rid of lice, which don't carry diseases, often arrive with feelings of embarrassment.

"They come in feeling horrible," said Juli Sellars, one of the lice removers. "It's a nuisance, it's costly, but it's not a disease."


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

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