Are "Super Lice" Lurking At Your Child's Daycare?
Researchers have identified new strain of so-called "super lice" resistant to many OTC treatments. What does this mean for parents?
Parents, you may want to get ready for more of those dreaded notes from daycare alerting you to yet another lice breakout. The reason? Two very frightening words: super lice. As creepy, crawly new research published in the Journal of the Entomological Society of America shows, several strains of head lice appear to have developed genetic mutations that make them resistant to the over-the-counter chemicals used to kill them.
Feeling itchy yet?
According to researchers, upon examining the genes of lice from 32 sites in the US and Canada, it was determined that 99.6 percent of those tested in 2007-09 were genetically resistant to pyrethrin- and permethrin-based chemicals. These are the same active-ingredient chemicals that have been used for decades in common over-the-counter lice products. Researchers say this may help to explain why some children treated with lice shampoos just can’t seem to shake the bugs.
“You use the product as the manufacturer says, and that product is no longer able to control head lice. And that’s rapidly happening in the United States,” said John Clark, a professor of environmental toxicology and chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
As reported by the Detroit Free Press, pediatricians are already seeing an uptick in the number of lice outbreaks among young children, and these may be linked to the treatment-resistant bugs.
“We have seen an increased number of cases of it in the last six months,” said Dr. Eric Ayers, an assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics with the Wayne State University Physicians Group and Children’s Hospital of Michigan, adding that the biggest challenge in fighting the spread of super lice is the misuse of over-the-counter and prescription treatments.
According to Ayers, if lice product instructions aren’t followed exactly, the lice can not only survive, but grow stronger. They’re then able to tolerate that same medication the next time it is applied. Then, those more-resistant bugs can move from the head of one child to another, spreading super lice.
“In irony, that’s probably what we’re seeing here,” he said. “Over a period of time, they’re moving from child to child. The lice become stronger, and now they’re super because someone didn’t treat their kid’s head properly.”
Susan Catchings, a family nurse practitioner in Cary, North Carolina, agrees with assessment, citing a recent online survey of 2,002 U.S. moms aged 25 and older, commissioned by Sanofi Pasteur and conducted by Harris Poll, that found a majority of moms, even those with personal experience, hold incorrect beliefs about head lice management.
To help correct misunderstanding and misinformation about lice and getting rid lice of lice and nits (super or not), Catchings offers answers to common questions she receives from parents.
How do head lice spread?
While head lice can affect almost anyone, it most commonly occurs among school-aged children. Head lice are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person, but nearly all moms (92 percent of all moms and 93 percent of those with experience as an adult) mistakenly believe they are most commonly spread from hats, combs or other personal items. To help prevent lice, avoid head-to-head contact during play and other activities at school and day care.
What about nits?
Nearly nine in 10 moms mistakenly believe that to get rid of a head lice infestation you have to comb out the nits, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises the removal of all nits after successful treatment is not necessary.
Do I have to clean the whole house to get rid nits and lice?
The majority (71 percent of all moms and 67 percent of those with experience as an adult) think that if one person in a household has head lice, the entire house should be cleaned and fumigated; however, CDC guidelines advise only a routine house cleaning and laundering of linens/clothing used by the infested person, and the use of insecticide sprays or fogs is not recommended.
How do I treat head lice?
The CDC advises that head lice treatment requires using an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication. Notably, fewer moms are aware prescription treatments can be used to treat head lice compared to those aware over-the-counter (OTC) treatments can be used for this purpose. Yet those who used a prescription the last time a family member had head lice report greater satisfaction.
Still scratching your head over this? For more information on how to treat lice (super or not), ask your family doctor, pediatrician or other healthcare provider for information on how to treat infestations. Talking to your healthcare provider is a great way to learn more about FDA-approved treatment options, how long each takes, how safety and efficacy compares, and what else you need to do to help prevent lice re-infestation.
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