As if normal, everyday lice weren’t icky enough, parents soon may face what some are calling — and you knew this was coming — “super lice,” or lice that have become resistant to over-the-counter removal preparations.
How common are super lice and what can parents do about them?
The topic of super lice has crept into newspaper and TV headlines, thanks to a recently released study that said lice having genetic mutations that make them resistant to nonprescription medications have been found in more than two dozen states.
However, it’s not a new development but one that has been going on awhile, says Dr. Nathan York, a pediatrician with Sunshine Valley Pediatrics. “It’s the ongoing struggle of man versus bug, so to speak.”
“We have these over-the-counter medications, things that worked pretty well in the ’90s and into the 2000s,” York says. “Then we started seeing some of this genetic resistance come out.”
Over-the-counter medications contain lice-killing drugs such as permethrin. Now, if those drugs don’t work, “we just have to start using more of a prescription-type thing,” York says.
“So when kids are found with lice, instead of running to the drugstore and being able to pick up over-the-counter stuff, it will require a trip to the doctor’s office see what medication works best.”
The upside is that “we’ve got other medicines in our arsenal, so it does mean a trip to the doctor’s office,” York says. “But that’s not always a bad idea anyway, just to make sure it is lice and not something else. There are other conditions in the scalp that can cause itching, so we want to see what it is because it might not be lice.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that, unless resistant lice have been identified in a community, parents might wish to first try an over-the-counter medication containing 1 percent permethrin, following the directions exactly. If that doesn’t work, or if resistant lice have been identified, the academy recommends seeing a pediatrician for treatment with a prescription medication.
Lice, by the way, are “very common and are found all over the place,” York says, “mostly in preschool and elementary-aged kids. Lice transfer from direct head-to-head contact, so younger kids typically will lie down next to each other. That typically is where they will spread.”
Children should avoid head-to-head contact, and the academy recommends that parents teach children to not share such items as combs, brushes or hats with other kids.
If a child seems to be scratching his or her head, look for live bugs or white nits attached to the hair shaft. If you see anything amiss, see your pediatrician, York says.
By the way, that recent study “did not show Nevada had any of the resistant lice,” York says. But because they have been found in Arizona and California, York also suspects it “won’t be long” before they’re seen here, too.