Better Head Lice Management

Head Lice Cartoon

Head Lice Cartoon from BusinessWeek
Illustration: Kelsey Dake

Head lice is a public health issue and requires participation from the public to be effective. If all groups are engaged in checking and eliminating head lice, then the public will experience reduction in risk of infestation. The most effective transmission of head lice occurs from direct head to head contact. Schools can be a significant site of transmission from family to family. A group of Norwegian scientists* surveyed practices among schools, ethnic and socioeconomic groups in Norway. They found differences in the responses among the groups.

They found that prior experience to head lice was correlated with more frequent inspection for lice. However, the frequency of checking was noted to have declined 1 year after an infestation. Immigrants from countries where lice are more prevalent inspected more frequently. However, they were less likely to notify authorities and more likely to purchase peduclicides (lice pesticides) than native Norwegians.

The scientists made several recommendations for a lice reduction program. Most important is early detection and elimination. Cases of lice infestation in schools should be immediately communicated to the community and more frequent inspections made. They recommended written and video communication at the start of school to emphasize the need to frequently inspect for lice (monthly) targeted at natives, and the advantages of reporting targeted especially to immigrants. The information should inform parents of the best practices and encourage rational rather than emotional responses to the problem. In their words “unnecessary negative emotions” are counterproductive. They inhibit communication in times of increased risk, discourge seeking help and advice from lice experts and in some cases result in children missing a large number instructional days. They suggest making available pest control advice to families that are affected by lice so families can avoid excess cleaning that is ineffective, reduce their workload and use the most effective means of lice control.

Western culture is gradually breaking the taboos about health issues communication. US First Lady, Betty Ford talked openly about her breast cancer and broke the silence around this important health issue. The US was forced to become more open about a number of health issues in order to combat the AIDS epidemic. Lack of open communication at the start of the epidemic led to worse results. Parasites, including insects, are a public health issue. Head lice is another public health issue that could benefit from more open discussion.

*Bjørn Arne Rukke, Arnulf Soleng, Heidi Heggen Lindstedt, Preben Ottesen & Tone Birkemoe. 2014. Socioeconomic status, family background and other key factors influence the management of head lice in Norway. Parasitology Research.
DOI 10.1007/s00436-014-3833-9

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in by jjneal, Health, Pest Management, Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Better Head Lice Management

  1. dianabuja says:

    Primary school kids here in Burundi (central africa) are generally required to shave their heads regularly. We have lice problems with our sheep herds and sometimes dogs – I use Ivermectin injections for this, over a period of weeks. It is off-lable but quite effective.

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