Head lice

Updated 13 July 2016

Wave of head lice hits primary schools

Unwelcome guest are making the heads of primary school learners itch in the city of flowers, Bloemfontein, with a reported outbreak of head lice.


Junior schools in the Free State’s capital city are reporting an outbreak of head lice among their students.

This means that, because of the nature of these tiny bugs that need to crawl from human to human to survive, it will spread fast. And typically for this time of year, it's expected to infiltrate schools across the country.

Health24 spoke to Lee-Ann Jardim at Laerskool Bloemfontein and she confirmed that the head lice season has started at the school. 

"We are just seeing a couple of isolated cases, but it normally signals the coming epidemic', she told us. But this primary school doesn't follow the 'no-nit' policy of sending infected kids back home (see below). Instead, they treat each child with a home-made recipe of mayonnaise, vinegar and eggs. 

We also spoke to other primary schools around South Africa who have also seen several cases during warmer months - one in Bloemfontein called Onze Rust and another called St Martin Primary in Boksburg - both of whom said that they are proponents of the no nit policy because of how easily the tiny insects spread. Both junior schools also mentioned that they prefer recommending chemical remedies such as shampoos over home remedies such as detailed above and that they require children to be completely bug free before returning to school. 

 WIN: A hamper of Controlice products to nip this bug in the bud (competition closes 31 March 2016)

The no-nit policy - right or wrong?

Schools across the world (primarily in the US, Canada, Australia and parts of South Africa) still implement this controversial containment method, referred to as the 'no-nit policy'- that forces infected children to remain absent from school until all nits are removed. But doesn't that violate a child's right to education? 

Read: How to comb out head lice

International guidelines established in 2007 for the effective control of head lice infestations state that no-nit policies are unjust and should be discontinued, because they are based on misinformation rather than objective science.

In the US, teachers have stopped sending children with head lice home, following advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The new thinking is that head lice are not dangerous, just a nuisance.

Read: How hot air can kill resistant head lice

Checking children for head lice and then phoning their parents to take them home has been found to be counterproductive and impractical. Not only is it a waste everybody's time, it is traumatic for the afflicted child and their parents. Because there's still a lot of shame around having lice, they feel stigmatised.

After following the stay-at-school rule for kids with head lice for two years, one school in Minnesota found that there weren't more outbreaks than before the rule, and the children attended more hours of school.

The teachers do still notify the parents, who can decide if they want to fetch the child or not. For those who stay in school, the teachers assist them with tying their hair back, and the parent can treat the lice at home.

Read: Everything you need to know about head lice

What do you think? Should children with head lice be made to miss school until their infection has cleared? Let us know in this quick poll or the comments below the article.

Before you decide, here are some head lice myths we should discard. 

5 head lice myths busted

1. Lice do not discriminate: Anyone and everyone can get lice. Having an infestation doesn't mean that you or your children are dirty or unhygienic. 
2. Head lice do not spread disease.
3. These parasites need a human host and their hair to survive. It is therefore very unlikely for them to spread via inanimate objects like towels or headphones or other items that have been in contact with an infested person's hair.
4. The chlorine in pool water will not kill head lice.
5. Swimming or washing your child’s hair 1 to 2 days after lice treatment can make certain treatments less effective.

Read more:

Home remedies for head lice

Supermoms can do anything – even beat head lice!

Love taking selfies? It may spread head lice


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