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Writing About Public Health Issues Carries Weighty Responsibility

Writing about public health issues carries weighty responsibility - especially when advice enjoys the credibility of a professional organization and its good name. But regardless of where it comes from, news should never represent opinions as fact.




This is an ever present challenge for writing articles about pediculosis.  As recently as yesterday,  USA Today quotes the current president of the National Association of School Nurses with comments that we believe to be false and misleading.  USA Today Article Link. Doesn’t USA Today have any fact-checkers?


One such statement reads:  “There's no evidence that head lice carry disease of any kind, said Laurie Combe, the president of the National Association of School Nurses.”  The reality is that pediculosis capitis – an infestation of head lice – is itself categorized as a communicable disease in medical standards that reflect time immemorial --  including the well-respected APHA standard known as the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual


The NPA does its best to keep up and share scientific research on the subject of head lice and disease. Documentation on research can be found here:

http://www.headlice.org/news/research/index.htm   and some of the history can be found here: http://www.headlice.org/faq/disease/zinsser.htm .  Hans Zinsser, MD in his classic Rats, Lice and History - The Biography of Typhus, noted on two separate occasions that “both the head louse and the body louse transmitted the disease.”


Laurie Combe thinks of head lice as a nuisance.  She says “It is a nuisance and certainly causes anxiety, but it is not a known health problem.”  Really?  The organization she represents has its entire section on head lice sponsored by the company marketing the antibiotic Ivermectin for children with head lice.  Ivermectin as a remedy is heavy artillery for what she perceives not to be a health problem.  And while we have documented evidence of lice resistance to some of the most widely used products, it is unimaginable that physicians and nurses would choose to call lice unimportant while prescribing pesticides and antibiotics when safer choices are readily available.


Much of the information shared in this USA Today article fits the negative profile for items we list in the Deceptive Dozen, a piece we wrote specifically to help parents avoid such misinformation, and inconsistent advice.  Article Link.


What is it about the public health issue of pediculosis that makes school and health professionals want to downplay the medical importance of head lice infestations, while at the same time recommending risky treatments for the children who are infested -- – especially when it’s a problem that can be safely and swiftly remedied with a $12.00 quality designed non-consumable lice and nit removal comb.  While chemical treatments, pediculicides, and broad spectrum antibiotics develop resistance and expose children to potentially adverse health effects, nothing compares to the kindness of a comb.


#publichealth #headlice

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