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It's a lousy problem, and getting worse
The Australian

Head lice are infesting hundreds of thousands of school-age children across the nation as the parasites build up immunity to chemicals.

Recent surveys of primary schools in Brisbane show 30 per cent of children have lice or nits (lice eggs) in their hair, while one in four children in NSW schools is lice-infested. At the Atherton State School in north Queensland, 90 per cent of children are infested.

Experts believe the scourge is exploding nationwide. After being largely suppressed by treatments for a generation, lice are no longer deterred by traditional chemicals.

Steve Barker, associate professor of parasitology at the University of Queensland, said many treatments were of little use, although the degree of resistance varied from school to school.

Dr Barker said his studies showed increasing resistance to the three major chemical treatments - pyrethrum, permethrin and malathion - and that herbal treatments were also largely ineffective.

"This is a re-emerging problem and it's going to take a long time to beat lice back down again," Dr Barker said

"People are spending hundreds of dollars on pharmaceuticals and still can't get rid of them. Parents are stressed out. Some just give up and take their kids out of school."

Research into a "very promising" new class of chemical treatments was well advanced.

The most effective treatment is to wet the hair with conditioner and remove lice and eggs with a fine comb, but this is difficult with long hair or if the infestation is heavy.

Glenis Lloyd, who runs a program called Nitbusters for NSW Health, said a survey of 15 schools showed 23 per cent of children were lice-infested.

Ms Lloyd says girls in Years 3 and 4 have the worst infestations, possibly because sleep-overs are popular. Infestation among girls and boys tapers off in Years 5 and 6.

Lice are not discerning. "It doesn't matter if your hair is clean or dirty, if you're from Sydney's leafy suburbs or out west, this beast is egalitarian."

Ms Lloyd's 11-year-old daughter Tosca has been infested several times.

"I've given them to her and she's given them to me," Ms Lloyd said. "I pick them up as I go around the schools. Parents are a tad paranoid. Of all the nasties kids can get, this is the least of their worries."

© Queensland Newspapers


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