Tracking Down Super Lice: Uncover if Your State is Being Plagued by the Menace


Super lice are increasingly becoming a plague across the world. Here in the United States, we have 6 to 12 million lice infestations each year. Of those, scientists estimate that two-thirds to three-quarters are super lice.

The pesky insects are so-called because they have one “super” power – they are highly resistant to common over-the-counter lice treatments. For the parents of infested kids, this creates a frustrating and persistent problem.

You’re probably subconsciously scratching your head thinking about this! But it raises the question, how “safe” is your state? Could the next lice infestation at your school be super lice? 

Are super lice present in your state?

 Let’s start with the bad news first – no matter what state you live in, it’s highly likely the answer to that question is a resounding yes. The most recent study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology paints a picture of a widespread super lice problem.

Researchers looked at 48 states and found that of those, 42 contained 100% resistant super lice. The remaining six (Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota and Oregon) had some super lice and some regular lice. Alaska and West Virginia were not part of the study, which is not to say they are immune. The near neighbors of those states (including Canada) all have super lice present.

You can look for your state on the map below, taken from the published paper. Those states with red dots show that the lice tested were 100% for RAF (resistance allele frequency – the gene that makes them “super” lice).

The United States is by no means alone when it comes to the epidemic of super lice. Studies in Europe, Asia, Israel and other parts of the world have found the presence of super lice.

As far as your individual state goes, an overall rule is that the frequency of head lice infestations multiplies during warmer months. If you live in a particularly temperate state, they can be an issue among school-aged kids for most of the year. Otherwise, the couple of months from August, when most kids head back to school is often known as “lice season.” 

Where have super lice come from?

Super lice are resistant to common pyrethroid treatments, a synthetic version of the natural insecticide chemical from the chrysanthemum plant. Shockingly, pesticide resistance traces its origins back to World War II, when it was common practice to douse millions of people with DDT, in an effort to prevent body lice. (This is especially horrifying with our knowledge today of the impacts of DDT on human health! The chemical has been banned here for over 40 years).

A Scientific American report describes DDT as a nervous system disruptor for insects, leading to convulsions and death. The problem is that decades of exposure lead to lice mutating to block its effects, then;

“Pyrethrins and pyrethroids also work by interfering with sodium pores. Lice have thus been able to readily evolve resistance to them, by co-opting mutations that fortified them against DDT.”

Scientists believe that part of the problem has been overuse of pyrethroids, including many people not using them according to their stated directions. Lice get exposed, but not killed, thus they evolve to develop resistance.

The short version? Humans caused super lice. 

What can you do to treat super lice?

We shared the bad news first, so there must be some good, right? Fortunately, while super lice are resistant to some of the more common drugstore treatments, they are not impossible to get rid of.

You have the option of other chemical treatments on prescription, as listed by the CDC. Researchers caution though, that these must be managed well with a coordinated effort among doctors to rotate what they prescribe. The fear is that lice will simply develop resistance to these treatments as well if they are not carefully managed. At the moment, there is no such coordinated program.

Secondly, there are many lice treatment clinics that have popped up across the country in recent years. There’s a good chance that you have one near you. These clinics treat the infestation for you using non-insecticidal treatments and can be quite successful. The catch is that they tend to be costly.

A bright spot for parents who need a budget treatment option is that Argentinian researchers recently found that thorough combing with a lice comb is an effective treatment in most cases. In light infestations, nearly 90% of lice were removed through one combing. If you want to improve the effectiveness of your combing even more, you can opt for an electric lice comb such as the RobiComb®. This will aid thorough lice removal by stunning or killing them with an electric charge.

If you’re wondering about whether you need to be concerned about super lice in your state, the answer is probably yes. However, an infestation doesn’t need to mean an exhausting run of endless treatments. Try out a non-insecticide treatment that has been proven to work, and you can be rid of the pesky critters within days.


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