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Head lice: the feelings people have


  • Conflicts of interest: RS and DC host a free information website supporting no products that contribute to the treatment of head lice. There is nil conflict of interest by any contributing author.

  • Funding source: Nil.

Ms. Julie C. Parison, bsoc sc (hons)
Anton Breinl Centre for Public Health and Tropical Medicine
James Cook University
Queensland 4811 Australia


Background  Head lice are a source of amusement for outsiders and an embarrassing nuisance to those who have to deal with them. Our study collected the emotions experienced by people dealing with head lice. An area with extremely sparse literature, our purpose is to inform the development of more effective programs to control head lice.

Methods  We asked “what were your feelings upon discovery of head lice?” as part of a study exploring the experience of those treating head lice. A short questionnaire was available via the authors’ head lice information internet site. A total of 294 eligible responses were collected over several months and analyzed, supported by QSR N6.

Results  The predominantly female (90·9%) respondents were residents of Australia (56·1%), USA (20·4%), Canada (7·2%), or UK (4·4%), and working full-time (43·0%) or part-time (34·2%). Reactions and feelings fell into three categories: strong (= 320; 79% of all stated emotions), mediocre (= 56; 20%), and neutral (= 29; 9·8%). There were no positive emotions.

Comment  The significant negative reaction was expected. The range of feeling expressed demonstrates the stigma held for these ectoparasites within western market economies. This contrasts with conceptions of head lice in traditional societies. The negative social effects of this perception create more problematic issues than the infection itself; these include quarantine, overtreatment, and a potentially negative psychological impact. Head lice control strategies and programs that address these negative emotional reactions may prove more effective than current biomedical focus.