What to Know About “Super Lice”
Treatment-resistant lice have popped up in 25 states. Is yours one of them?
While you may have heard reports in the news lately about “super lice,” know this: They aren’t new. Treatment-resistant lice were first reported in Israel back in the 1990s, according to the American Chemical Society . It was a report released in August 2015 that showed how widespread the problem had become, catapulting the issue back into the public eye.
In that report, researchers at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville said lice in at least 25 states had developed gene mutations, making them resistant to common over-the-counter lice treatments.
States in pink have treatment-resistant lice. (Photo: Kyong Yoon, PhD/American Chemical Society)
“What we found was that 104 out of the 109 lice populations we tested had high levels of gene mutations, which have been linked to resistance to pyrethroids,” Kyong Yoon, PhD, said in a press release.
Pyrethroids are a family of insecticides used widely indoors and outdoors to control mosquitoes and other insects, according to the American Chemical Society. It includes permethrin, which is the active ingredient in commonly used lice treatments.
Related: How to Get Rid of Lice
“Super lice” are similar to superbugs, which are strains of bacteria that are resistant to several types of antibiotics. The more we used common lice treatments over the years, the more the lice became immune to them.
“If you use a chemical over and over, these little creatures will eventually develop resistance,” Yoon said. “So we have to think before we use a treatment. The good news is head lice don’t carry disease. They’re more a nuisance than anything else.”
He’s right about that. Children’s Hospital Boston says lice have “no true medical consequences.” They’re icky, but they don’t spread disease.
So how do we treat head lice now? Don’t worry, even super lice are still treatable. Ask your pediatrician what treatment she suggests, as she may know whether local lice outbreaks are treatment-resistant. She may recommend using an OTC permethrin or pyrethrins medication. (Don’t use pyrethrins if you’re allergic to chrysanthemums or ragweed. Also don’t give it to children under age 2.)
According to KidsHealth, you still can use over-the-counter or prescription treatments, but it may take more time (and patience) to get rid of those little buggers than in the past. (You may have to comb them out over and over again.)
Looking for more how-to advice about lice? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extensive treatment guidelines for the whole family.
Like this article? Share it with friends by clicking the Facebook or Twitter button below. And don't forget to visit our Facebook page!