Head lice should not keep children from attending school, according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Parents frequently keep children out of class if their child contracts the bugs, for fear of spreading the infestation to others. The new recommendations state that children found to be harboring lice can finish out their day, be treated for the condition and return to school.

Lice may be unpleasant, but an infestation of the insects is not a serious condition, nor is it a sign of poor hygiene. The most common treatment for head lice is a 1 percent solution of permethrin or a dose of a class of medicines called pyrethrins. After that, parents should comb through the child's hair, removing the insects and follow up with combing through wet hair. This process should be repeated on the ninth day after the infestation is noted as well as nine days after that if the insects are still present. Some varieties of lice have already evolved to become resistant to the effects of permethrin.

"Many of our unwanted scalp visitors simply won't be killed by this long-trusted and safe treatment. Permethrin still may be a good place to start — it's safe, cheap and over-the-counter. But if the lice are still happily crawling, your pediatrician has other options the lice may not be expecting," Dassi Leader, director of inpatient pediatrics at Staten Island University Hospital, said.

In extreme cases, doctors may utilize the insecticide Spinosad or the topical antiparasitic drug Ivermectin.

Many parents continue to believe that their child is most likely to be infected by lice at school. However, most cases of infestations are caught outside school.

After a child is found to be hosting the insects, all members of the household where the child lives should be checked and treated, if necessary. Pillowcases should be washed, as should any combs or brushes manufactured from natural fibers. However, widespread fumigation of homes or the use of pesticides in the home is not usually necessary, according to AAP recommendations.

Parents may also reduce the incidence of lice in their homes by watching carefully for signs of the insects during regular day-to-day brushing of their child's hair. Manually removing the eggs and insects - nitpicking - is effective as well.

A head lice infestation can be seen with the eggs, called nits, on hair shafts close to the scalp, where they keep warm until they hatch. Lice lay nits on hair shafts close to the scalp, where the temperature is perfect for keeping warm until they hatch. They look a bit like dandruff, but they can't be removed by brushing them off. The scientific name, pediculosis capitis, is not nearly as entertaining as the name used, usually unwittingly, by children — cooties. Symptoms can take up to six weeks to appear the first time a person hosts the meddlesome insects, but these display in less time with subsequent exposures.

"Excluding children from school until they are lice or nit free can have significant academic and emotional consequences. Pediatricians, therefore, may educate school communities that no-nit policies for return to school should be abandoned," the AAP report concludes.

Analysis of new treatment methods to treat head lice was profiled in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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