“Super Lice”: Chemical-Resistant Head Lice On the Rise

Pierre Van Zyl

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Much like antibiotic resistant bacteria in recent years, “super bugs” of another type have adapted to survive common treatments. Chemical-resistant head lice has been a growing problem, with news stories covering the “super lice” since 2015. (1, 2)

Unfortunately, just like antibiotic resistant bacteria, “super lice” also seem like they’re here to stay. At least until a new solution can be found.

Lice Clinics of America, which operates 330 lice clinics across the USA, estimates that lice cases have increased by a whopping 30% in just a year. (3) In some states, like Washington, the average has jumped by 80%! (4)

What Are Lice?

Lice are small parasitic insects that feed on blood. When most people speak of lice, they’re referring to head lice, but other types include body lice and pubic lice (otherwise known as crabs). (5)

Lice can spread very easily by close contact and sharing personal items such as hats, bags, and clothes. This makes school grounds common targets.

Signs of lice include: (5)

  • Itchy scalp
  • Tickling sensation on scalp
  • Small red bumps on head, neck, and shoulders
  • Visible signs of lice including nits (eggs) or adult lice

What Are Super Lice?

While super lice look and behave no differently than standard lice, they have developed an immunity to common lice treatments, such as permethrin and pyrethrin. (6)

In 2016, a study found that resistant lice had already spread to 48 states. (7)

Some experts attribute the rise of super lice to people misdiagnosing lice infestations, using head lice treatments incorrectly, or not addressing re-infestations. (6) But others say the cause is actually linked to a natural adaptation of pesticide use. According to a recent study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, between 2/3 and 3/4 lice are now resistant to the most popular chemical treatments. (8)

How to Treat Super Lice

So if popular lice treatments simply aren’t effective anymore, what can one do to avoid the creepy crawlies?

“These traditional, over-the-counter treatments that people are used to are just not working anymore,” Dr. Krista Lauer, medical director of Lice Clinics of America told ABC News says. “There’s more time for lice to spread because they’re trying these ineffective treatments.” (9)

Doctors now commonly prescribe alternative medications, including Natroba, Sklice, and Ulesfia. (10)

One effective drug-free alternative is to dehydrate the lice in a hot and dry environment. Expert lice removers use a specialized hair dryer to eliminate lice and nits in a 90-minute session. (10) One such treatment is the FDA-approved AirAlle.

Unfortunately, the popular home remedy of applying mayonnaise to the scalp does not seem to be an effective way to stop a lice infestation. (11)

Of course, it’s better to prevent lice in the first place, especially treatment-resistant lice.

“If you have school-age children in a region where lice infestations have been reported, it’s important to take some immediate steps to either prevent your children from being infested or properly treat and kill the lice before they spread to others in your family and social group,” Dr. Lauer advises. (12)

Read Next: 4 Ways to Help Your Child Handle After-School Restraint Collapse

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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