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Head Lice Epidemic in Australia
Parents want help!

Paul Weston
May 25, 2008 12:00am

A STATEWIDE head lice epidemic is robbing children of precious school time and forcing some parents to fork out more than $800 a year on treatments.

Frustrated parents fed up with trying to rid their children of the pests are calling for the State Government to fund school visits by medical staff to tackle the problem.
Several Brisbane hairdressers have warned parents that they face a $40 fee for sterilising equipment if their child is found to carry nits when they enter their salons.

Recent research by scientists at the University of Queensland suggests almost half the children in many primary schools have head lice.

Brisbane father Keith Shew, who is lobbying the State Government on behalf of parents about the head lice problem, estimates he spends more than $800 a year on conditioners and combing treatments for his children.

Because teachers by law cannot inspect the heads of students for lice, Mr Shew believes the solution is for health professionals to visit schools.

"We used to call them the 'nit sisters', and between 1964 to 1968 I remember nurses visiting Queensland and New South Wales schools," Mr Shew said.

"They used to come into the school, have a desk set up in an empty classroom and kids would stream in and out, and they'd check them for lice. They would treat them on the spot."

Mr Shew said he did not lay blame on staff at the Holy Spirit School Bray Park, where his two children have been forced to miss school due to the head lice problem.

He said the problem was caused by government health guidelines on lice intervention provided for independent, Catholic and state schools.

Holy Spirit School Bray Park principal Peter Pashen said he would welcome any health initiatives to solve the spread of head lice in schools.

"I would welcome some professional support with open arms," Mr Pashen said, adding that his school had used Education Queensland and Health Department guidelines on lice control.

"We can't go (under the guidelines) and check every child. You can't go up to each child and say 'show me your head lice'.

"And if I had teachers doing that every day – well, they're supposed to teach, not be in health."