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Nursing professor studies social issues related to head lice
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By Brittney Messingschlager
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An associate professor at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing will appear on CNN television soon to discuss her study on what can become a major community and family problem - head lice.

Professor Shirley Gordon's studies of head lice infestation, called pediculosis, are different from many others because she focuses on people with persistent head lice - those who have three or more cases of infestation within a six-week period and treatment is not successful.

“Many people consider head lice as a stigma,” she said. "But it's really an equal opportunity parasite and it can affect all people of all ages and of all socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Gordin's theory explains that when a child develops head lice, a “shared vulnerability” within the household is created - “the experience of suffering the same openness to injury as their child.”

Gordin's three-year study took place in southeast Florida and involved 20 parents or caregivers who were overseeing at least one child with persistent head lice. More than half of the participants, 65 percent, were single parents and admitted that their child spent time in more than one home.

The data was collected using a series of interviews and observations of the caregivers.

Gordin found that a common psychological problem in caring for a child or children with persistent head lice is caregiver strain or stress.

“Contracting head lice often leads to social isolation, altered interactions, feelings of guilt and loss of integrity," Gordin said.

Many elementary and middle schools have a controversial “no- nit” policy, including FAU's A.D. Henderson University School. The policy forbids students who have contracted lice to return to school until all of the parasites and nits, or eggs, are gone. There were approximately 60 cases last year.

“If one child is diagnosed with having lice, every student in that child's class will be inspected for lice, also,” said Gina Dunne, the nurse at A.D. Henderson. “The parents of every child get a notice sent home explaining the details of lice and warning to inspect their child's hair daily for the next seven to 10 days.”

Dunne said she understands the effects lice have on family members.

One of the biggest problems caused by head lice, she said, is the panic it causes among parents. If a child is diagnosed with lice at a school screening, that child is sent home immediately for three to five days or until no lice and nits remain on the child. This causes otherwise perfectly healthy students to miss valuable class time.

“Parents come in at least once a week to talk about the lice situation. They are so nervous about the label of their child having lice, that they don't realize head lice has absolutely nothing to do with the person's cleanliness. In fact, lice prefer a healthy host,” Dunne said.

Gordin also has worked closely with Lice Solutions Resource Network in West Palm Beach, a nonprofit center that helps families deal with head lice. Gordin visits the Lice Solutions office once a week to go over new studies she has found and new methods for treatment.

Katie Sheppard, the director, claims that the most effective treatment for the lice is a good comb and a lot of patience. She suggests using the “Terminator” comb with very tight spiral teeth. This comb not only gets the live bugs out, but it loosens the parasites' glue that affixes the nits to the hair.

“Until it impacts your family, you can't appreciate help like this,” Sheppard says of what her organization offers, often at reduced cost.

Sheppard also checks the hair of all household members of an infected patient free of charge to decrease the risk of spreading the infestation through close contact.

“Lice is a gift that keeps on giving - a gift we don't want,” Sheppard said.

She added: “I am so grateful for my relationship with Dr. Gordin; the families of south Florida are really the ones that benefit.”

The date of Gordin's interview on CNN has not been announced.

 

 
 

 
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