As if treating head lice isn't tricky enough, reports of "super lice" that are resistant to the usual tried-and-tested remedies have begun to raise alarms. It has been reported that the "super-strain lice" have spread to 25 states in the U.S., and it shows no sign of slowing.
The super lice were first discovered last year via a study conducted by Kyong Yoon, an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University, and John Marshall Clark, director of the Massachusetts Pesticide Analysis Laboratory and professor at the University of Massachusetts.
"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," Dr. Kyoon said in a press release. He further explained that it was caused by overly using chemicals that are used to treat head lice, or not using these products as directed.
Pyrethroids, specifically permethrin and pyrethrin-based products, used to have a 100-percent effectivity rate against head lice back in 2000. In 2013, these products had been found to be effective for only about a quarter of the cases. Now in order for pyrethroids to still work against the mutated lice species, a higher dosage is required.
If you don't want to expose your kids to any more chemicals, the next option is to use natural remedies that include using essential oils like tea tree, clove oil, and nutmeg oil, as well as vinegar and mayonnaise. Pediatric dermatologist Dr. Robin Gehris explains that home treatments might work. "Theoretically, it could work if you put [mayonnaise] on thickly enough that the lice aren't able to breathe. But it's hard to imagine that you could get it on thickly enough to really do the trick," she said in an interview with Today.
There is also a new device called AirAllé, which claims to be effective against super lice and its nits (lice eggs). According to its website, head lice and lice eggs have high water content, and they are accustomed to living in a humid environment. If you expose them to large amounts of dry, heated air, it will cause them to dry out and die. "There's no evidence that lice can evolve resistance to desiccation through heated air," said Dr. Dale Clayton, an evolutionary parasitologist who invented the device. It's a non-toxic, one-time treatment that has been certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but currently only avaialble in the U.S.
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At the end of the day, the real answer to treating lice is prevention. Here are some guidelines to remember:
Don’t share combs, towels, and other things that come in contact with head or hair, not even places where you keep personal belongings.
Ask kids not to get too close together or avoid other kids who they know are infected with lice. Don't send your child to school if your child has lice.
If one member of the family is infected, bed linens, blankets, pillowcases, and even clothes that have come in contact with lice should be washed in very hot water.
Note that over-the-counter medicines kill the lice, but not the nits. This is why it’s sometimes necessary to repeat treatment after a few days or weeks. You can also use a nit comb (suyod) to get rid of the nits.
Remember that over-the-counter medicines are pesticides so follow the directions carefully.
Sources February 27, 2016. "Super Lice Outbreak: How To Treat And Protect Your Kids From Head Lice" (techtimes.com) February 26, 2016. Super-strains of lice spread to 25 states: Are they in yours?" (today.com) August 18, 2015. "Lice in at least 25 states show resistance to common treatments" (eurekalert.org)