Ick factor - Why you may be struggling to get rid of those pesky head lice

(BPT) - Whether your kids are off to summer camp, you’re gearing up for back-to-school, there is snow on the ground or flowers are blooming, you may find yourself dealing with a case of head lice. An estimated 6 million to 12 million head lice infestations occur each year in the United States alone, most commonly among children 3 to 11 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since head lice move by crawling and are mainly spread by head-to-head contact, children in close quarters are often the main form of transportation for these tiny, wingless critters.

Although they are not dangerous and do not carry disease, head lice can be a nuisance. One challenge you may face are treatments that don’t work the first time. Head lice treatment failure can have a number of possible causes, including not following application directions and emergence of treatment-resistant head lice. 

A recent study examining treatment-resistant head lice published in the Journal of Medical Entomology showed that many of the 291 head lice collected from 84 subjects located in 12 U.S. states, possessed a genetic mutation referred to as knockdown resistance, or simply the kdr mutation. The kdr mutation is one trait that allows lice to continue to thrive after being treated with pyrethrins or pyrethroids, the active ingredients in some over-the-counter head lice treatments. Although based on small numbers, the data suggests that the presence of the mutation has increased in the last several years. If the prevalence of the genetic mutation continues to increase, the way in which we approach head lice treatment may need to be reassessed.

So, how do you know which head lice treatment to choose?

“With the rates of treatment-resistant head lice appearing to be on the rise, it is important for parents to educate themselves about the available options for managing an infestation,” says study co-author John Clark, PhD, a professor of environmental toxicology and chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Head lice treatments that do not contain permethrin or pyrethrum, including prescription options, may offer an effective solution to controlling head lice.”

Knowing knockdown resistance is a growing concern, healthcare providers can offer valuable information on the presence of treatment-resistant lice in your community and available head lice treatment options approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with a range of safety and efficacy profiles and application instructions. While calling your child’s physician or another healthcare provider may not be your initial reaction, it might be worth it to pause and pick up the phone to learn more.