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The Rise of Super Lice
In case battling lice infestations wasn’t enough of a headache, now the lice are fighting back. Super Lice, an evolved form of lice resistant to pesticides, have turned leading over-the-counter lice treatments into nothing more than a waste of time. Pesticide solutions are now only effective 30% of the time.
Over the last 20 years, pesticide-based lice treatments have become less and less effective on lice, leading to a surge in Super Lice breakouts across the United States. These Super Lice have spread to 48 states in just five years!
A recent U.S. study† found that up to three-quarters of all lice can now be classified as Super Lice. Over-exposure to insecticides has helped them to build up a high tolerance for pesticide treatments such as those containing the active ingredient, permethrin. This and other pyrethroids have been the most common treatment regime for decades now.
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.
Does My Child Have Super Lice?
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.
Like regular head lice, Super Lice survive by feeding on blood from the human scalp. They lay eggs called nits on the hair shaft and begin multiplying on the scalps of their human targets. Lice are most commonly found infesting preschool and elementary-aged children, as little ones tend to play closely with one another, making it easier for lice to transfer from one little head to another.
Simply re-treating them with the same type of lice treatment over and over again will not only be a waste of money, but you could prolong the discomfort of your child as well. And, if your child’s school happens to be one with a “no nit” policy, they may be out of school for a long time as you try to treat the issue.
Having Super Lice isn’t 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 scratching – not the lice itself – is what can lead to scalp wounds and infections.
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 or perhaps missed some eggs. Lice treatment plans are very specific and must be followed exactly as instructed in order to work. One theory suggests that persistent incorrect usage of insecticides contributed to the rise of Super Lice. The lice were exposed but didn’t die, so they adapted and got stronger.
- You’re experiencing a re-infestation. Children can transmit lice back and forth through close contact. Young children in particular are especially vulnerable, and there’s a good chance that classmates didn’t get infested at the same time. So, you treat your child, and by the time they go back to school, 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: don’t blame the dog! Head lice don’t survive off anything other than human blood!)
- Your child didn’t have lice at all. Misdiagnosis is surprisingly common, especially if diagnosed by someone at school without a follow-up visit to the doctor. (Not many think to go to the doctor for lice!) There are several conditions that can cause flakiness of the scalp, itching, and the appearance of a lice infestation. Someone might assume it’s lice depending on your child’s age and if there has been a known infestation at school.
If you’ve followed treatment instructions to a T, your child hasn’t been at risk for re-infestation and there’s no other explanation for the itching (like dandruff) then your child may have Super Lice. Don’t panic, though! The right pesticide-free treatment will have your child comfortable and itch-free. They’ll be back to school in no time!
A Pesticide-Free Solution?
While pesticide treatments used to be effective, they were never safe for children. Even when pesticide treatments worked, they were dangerous to their users. Pyrethroids, the most common ingredient in Super Lice treatments, are a known neurotoxin linked with a range of nasty side-effects. Exposure at any level may be unsafe.
The better solution? Non-toxic, pesticide-free treatments that are safe, fast, and effective.
Prescription Lice Treatments
When over-the-counter lice treatment doesn’t work, the next destination for many parents is the pediatrician. In the case of Super Lice, your doctor is likely to recommend a chemical treatment only available by prescription.
The CDC lists a few prescription treatments†† approved for Super Lice. You may have come across treatments such as Ulesfia, Sklice, Ovide or Natroba before. All of these have been shown to be effective against Super Lice; however, you should weigh the usage against potential negative side effects.
For example, all of these Super Lice treatments come with the risk of skin irritation. Ovide even warns that Malathion lotion is flammable and shouldn’t be used near any kind of electric heat! Not exactly comforting.
As parents, we want safe treatments for our children. If there’s an option with no nasty side effects, we want it!
It isn’t just parents who are worried, though. Scientists are also dubious about the effectiveness of these treatments in the long-term. They suggest that doctors need to rotate what they prescribe††† to prevent over-exposure – the very thing that created Super Lice in the first place.
Lice Treatment Salons
If you want to avoid prescription Super Lice treatments, there are several lice treatment clinics across the country where you can get your child treated. That’s right – someone else will remove the nits and lice for you!
Salon methods vary between clinics, but a common treatment option is heat. Special heated devices are used on the hair to dehydrate the lice and their eggs. This can kill the Super Lice and their eggs and then remove them by combing.
Alternatively, some clinics use a smothering technique on the lice. This may include coating the hair in olive oil and combing the insects and eggs out afterward.
The downfall? Sometimes the heat or smothering doesn’t kill all the lice, which means your child might require multiple treatments.
For parents, the big pro of going to a lice treatment clinic is that you don’t have to deal with the mess at home. On the other hand, convenience and olive oil – free hands come at a price. Most of these clinics have rates that start somewhere around $100 per hour.
You may think the treatment is worth the $100. But, if your child has long, thick, or curly hair, your treatment may take quite a bit more time, and therefore more money. Multiply that by how many children you have and whether or not you need follow-up treatments and you may be forking out hundreds of dollars or more.
Lice treatment salons are a nice convenience, but the cost just isn’t feasible for most parents. If you don’t have that sort of money available, then you probably want something that is cheap, safe, and effective that you can do at in the convenience of you home. You’re in luck! There are multiple Super Lice treatments that can fit your budget.
Electric Lice Comb
If you’re looking for an alternative treatment that avoids insecticides – and one that’s also safe and effective – an electric lice comb such as the RobiComb® might be for you. This comb zaps live lice, stunning or killing them. They can then be combed out, along with the nits. That’s right – they may be super, but they’re not immune to electrocution! In fact, they couldn’t become resistant no matter how hard they tried!
You don’t need to fear zapping your kids, either. The electric shock doesn’t hurt you or your child, as the teeth of the comb are protected by rubber guards.
Electric combs share the same downfall as other combs – the treatment can be time-consuming. However, they are more effective than a regular comb and are relatively cheap! You can snag the RobiComb® for less than $25.
Bonus: there is no sticky mess! The RobiComb® can also be cleaned and reused at any time; as parents of young children, the reusability alone can be worth the investment.
Prescription shampoos are chemical-based, including ivermectin lotion, lindane, and malathion. Lindane has enough negative side effects that it’s being phased out around much of the world due to safety concerns.
Chemical-free shampoos such as LiceGuard®’s Lice and Egg shampoo, however, work by breaking down the bonds that attach the eggs to the hair. This makes it much easier to comb out both the lice and their eggs. Because this shampoo isn’t an insecticide, even Super Lice aren’t resistant to this treatment.
This treatment does require close attention when combing and may take more than one application to ensure no eggs were missed that later hatched. Repeating the treatment for up to 10 days is recommended. However, the shampoo has a pleasant scent, and it won’t lead to harmful side-effects for your child.
There are also several other natural shampoos on the market. Most of them that claim to eliminate lice are not backed by science. These shampoos may be chemical-free, but they also may be nothing more than an expensive hair product.
With Super Lice being unaffected by insecticide treatments, your next step may be an at-home treatment.
Combing them out is the most common and effective method – and it’s chemical-free! You could also use the salon method yourself (such as olive oil), followed by a special, fine-toothed lice comb to the smothered lice.
Another common at-home treatment is mayonnaise. Just like olive oil, mayonnaise suffocates the live lice.
These methods are definitely cheap but are often time-consuming and messy. And, unless you’re thorough, these Super Lice treatments may not be 100% effective. Your child may just end up smelling like a sandwich.
Avoid a Super Lice Re-Infestation!
Once you’ve put the time and effort into ridding your children of Super Lice, it’s important to take steps to avoid re-infestation. Many families experience a frustrating cycle of treatment, followed by the recurrence of the pesky insects.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to completely tear your house apart or call in a special cleaning company like you would for other pests. Super Lice have not evolved to live away from humans yet! Once off the scalp, Super Lice only have about three days to live, making it easy to isolate and eliminate them.
- All hats, hairbrushes, pillowcases, bedding and anything else washable that has been in contact with infested heads should be washed or put on a hot dryer cycle to kill the lice.
- Toys, coats, or other delicate items may be able to be dry-cleaned.
- For anything that is difficult to clean, you should isolate it for several days. Any Super Lice left will not survive; they need human blood from the scalp.
There is not a lot you can do to avoid a lice infestation in the first place. They’re a very common occurrence and love human scalps of all types. The best prevention method? Teach kids not to share hats or clothes when a lice infestation is present; but if they do get Super Lice, don’t panic! Safe, non-toxic treatment is available to send the lice packing!