Susceptibility of head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) to pediculicides in Australia


Infestation with head lice, Pediculus humanus capitis, is a worldwide problem, especially among primary (elementary) school children. Although studies in many different countries indicate lower levels of susceptibility to certain insecticides than expected ("resistance"), there is no empirical data from Australia. Data on the susceptibility of head lice to malathion, pyrethrums and permethrin were collected from four schools in Brisbane and one school in northern Queensland. Since no completely susceptible strain of head lice was available and head lice are difficult to keep in culture, a completely susceptible strain of body lice, Pediculus humanus humanus, was used for reference. All five groups of head lice were less susceptible to malathion, pyrethrums and permethrin than were lice from the reference strain. Moreover, the degree of susceptibility to these insecticides varied substantially among schools. Thus, a pediculicide that controlled lice at one school in Brisbane would not necessarily control head lice at another school in the same city. These preliminary data indicate that detailed information on the susceptibility of the different populations of head lice in Queensland to the different insecticides available is needed to maximize the chance of effective control of these increasingly common parasites.

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We thank Kosta Mumcuoglu for advice and for giving us the body lice from which we founded our laboratory colony. Helen Weld and Cheryl Thomas for hosting our work in Yungaburra, and Claire Ellender, Anna Murrell and Conor McMeniman for help with the figures. Rick Speare provided helpful advice. Biotech Industries, Brisbane, Australia, gave us the insecticides.

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Correspondence to S. C. Barker.

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Hunter, J.A., Barker, S.C. Susceptibility of head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) to pediculicides in Australia. Parasitol Res 90, 476–478 (2003).

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  • Reference Strain
  • Malathion
  • Fume Hood
  • Susceptible Strain
  • State School