What in the World Are “Super Lice?” Why You Need to Know


The thought of head lice is enough to make anyone shiver and start to experience phantom scalp itching! The little pests are common, especially if you have school-aged children.

What if we were to tell you that the lice infestation your kids are experiencing may not be ordinary lice? Just when you thought regular lice were irritating enough, along come “super lice.”

Just as the title sounds, super lice are stronger than the lice your own parents probably had to deal with when you were a child. It’s important to know what you’re up against, so let’s take a closer look.

What are super lice?

Super lice are like regular lice in every way except one: they are resistant to common over-the-counter treatments. Basically, over-exposure to insecticides has helped them to build up a high tolerance for treatments such as those containing the active ingredient permethrin. This and other pyrethroids have been the most common treatment regime for decades now.

A recent U.S. study found that up to three-quarters of all lice can now be classified as “super lice.” These represent a persistent problem for parents, who are left trying to find other effective lice treatments. To the frustration of many, they can be stuck with an infestation for much longer than they’d hoped as they try different treatments.

Super lice live off drinking blood from the scalps of their victims. They lay eggs on the hair shaft and start the cycle all over again. Like regular, non-resistant lice, they:

  • Love clean hair;
  • Are transmitted through close contact or sharing of hats, pillows and other things that an infested head has been in contact with;
  • Cannot fly or jump; and
  • Have a three-stage life cycle; nit (egg), nymph and adult. The whole lifespan lasts 15 to 18 days.

If you’ve tried over-the-counter insecticides to treat your child and it hasn’t worked, there’s a chance that they do have super lice. Thus far, resistance among lice has been found in at least 48 US states.

The problem is that if you simply re-treat them with the same type of treatment, you could not only waste a lot of money on something that is ineffective, but you could prolong the discomfort of your infested child as well. If your child’s school happens to be one with a “no nit” policy, then they’re off from school for longer and you may be off work trying to treat the issue.

Having lice is not inherently dangerous or unhealthy. They don’t transmit disease, but they are very irritating. If you have a persistent case of super lice, this may lead to a lot of head scratching for your child. This is where you risk that scratching opens up wounds, which leads to infections.

Are there other reasons why a lice infestation persists?

Is it or is it not super lice? It’s difficult for parents to be able to tell the difference as the only clue really is that you tried an insecticide and it didn’t work.

There are, however, some other reasons why you might have a persistent lice infestation, and it may not include super lice:

  • You haven’t followed the treatment instructions closely enough. Treatments are very specific in terms of when and how they work. In fact, one theory into the creation of super lice suggests that persistent incorrect usage of insecticides contributed. The lice were exposed but didn’t die, so they adapted and got stronger;
  • You’re experiencing a re-infestation. Kids can transmit lice back and forth through close contact. Young children in-particular are vulnerable and there’s a good chance that the children in class didn’t all get infested at the same time. So you treat your child, they go back to school, and by that stage, other kids are infested too;
  • Your child picked up the lice again, off a pillowcase that wasn’t washed, the couch or their favorite blanket. (Note here – don’t blame the dog, head lice don’t survive off anything other than human blood!); and
  • Your child didn’t have lice at all. Misdiagnosis is actually common, especially if it was spotted by someone at school and you didn’t get your child’s scalp checked by a doctor (not many would go to the doctor for this!) There are several conditions that can cause flakiness on the scalp, itching and the appearance of a lice infestation. Someone might assume that it is lice if there has been a known infestation at school, or just because of your child’s age.

Treatment should always include thorough combing of the hair to remove eggs. If you’ve missed eggs and they’ve later hatched, this can be another reason for a persistent infestation.

If you’re looking for an alternative treatment that avoids insecticides, while also being safe and effective, an electric lice comb such as the RobiComb® is a great option to try. Improve the effectiveness of your combing by zapping any live lice, at the same time as removing the nits.

Super lice are a persistent problem, but with the right treatment that avoids the insecticides they are resistant to, you can have your child comfortable again, and back to school. very quickly.


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