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Original Research

What parents in Australia know and do about head lice

Submitted: 20 November 2006
Revised: 28 June 2007
Published: 25 July 2007

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Author(s) : Counahan ML, Andrews RM, Weld H, Helen W, Speare R.

Megan CounahanRoss AndrewsHelen WeldWalsh HelenRick Speare

Citation: Counahan ML, Andrews RM, Weld H, Helen W, Speare R.  What parents in Australia know and do about head lice. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2007; 7: 687. Available: (Accessed 23 October 2017)


Introduction: Although parents in developed market economies regard head lice infections (pediculosis) as a significant problem, health departments generally rate pediculosis as a low priority health issue, encouraging parents to manage and control it. But how well equipped and willing are parents to manage the infections? There do not appear to be any studies in the literature addressing these issues. This article presents the results of a survey conducted in Australia that aimed to answer these questions.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey of parents of primary school aged children in Victoria (Vic) and north Queensland (NQ) was conducted using a self-administered questionnaire. The study investigated the knowledge, attitudes and practices of parents regarding head lice infections.
Results: Only 7.1% of 1338 who completed the questionnaire answered all 10 knowledge questions correctly and more than one-third failed to answer half correctly. There was a weak negative correlation between parents’ knowledge and the prevalence of active pediculosis in the school. Almost all parents wanted the responsibility for treating pediculosis and more than three-quarters saw it as a health concern. A higher proportion of parents in NQ used preventative strategies (67% vs 41%). Most parents spent less than AU$50 per year on treatments. Alarmingly, however, the proportion of children missing school as a result of pediculosis was 24.4% and 30.3% in Vic and NQ, respectively. In Vic there was a positive correlation (r = 0.39) between missing school in the previous 12 months and prevalence of pediculosis in the school.
Conclusions: This appears to be the most comprehensive study of parental knowledge, beliefs, and practices regarding head lice infections. Although parents wanted responsibility for the management of pediculosis, deficiencies in their knowledge indicate they may be inadequately equipped to do so. Given the high proportion of children in both states who have missed school as a result of head lice, it is recommended that health departments in Australia should work to ensure that consistent and accurate messages about pediculosis are disseminated, and that relevant legislation is amended to prevent children being excluded from school.

Key words: Australia, pediculosis, school absenteeism, treatment.

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