An infestation of so-called “super lice” is on the rise nationwide, and medical experts say that that over-the-counter bottle of lice treatment isn’t going to help.
Doctors across the country are reporting a 30 percent increase in lice cases this year, with some states, such as Washington, showing increases as high as 80 percent.
The problem, Dr. Krista Lauer, medical director of Lice Clinics of America, told KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic, is a breed of lice that have mutated a resistance to insecticides.
“They’ve been called ‘Super Lice’,” Lauer says, “which does sound like it comes right from a horror movie.”
What are Super Lice?
Lice are nothing new. They’re a pest that has plagued humanity for thousands of years, and humans have been trying to get rid of them for just as long. In fact, Dr. Lauer says, Queen Cleopatra herself was buried with a lice comb.
As we try to fight the problem with insecticides, however, the lice evolve to survive through everything we throw at them, and our old methods stop working.
At this point, according to a 2016 Journal of Medical Entomology study, 96 percent of the lice in 48 states are resistant to pyrethroids, the type of insecticide used in most over-the-counter lice treatments.
Dr. Lauer believes that’s why lice have been on such a dramatic rise. “These traditional, over-the-counter treatments that people are used to are just not working anymore,” Dr. Lauer says. “There’s more time for lice to spread because they’re trying these ineffective treatments.”
Lice spreads, Dr. Lauer says, through direct head-to-head contact. That’s why children are usually affected more than adults – because their aggressive, physical ways of playing tend to result in head-to-head contact.
But when those children come home, the chances they’ll spread their house to a family member, Dr. Lauer says, is extremely high. In fact, she claims the odds are over 80 percent.
With lice spreading so quickly through the country, Dr. Lauer recommends parents give their children weekly head checks.
Parents should look for the eggs rather than the lice themselves, which can be more difficult to spot. The eggs, she says, will be about the size of a grain of sand, will be found close to scalp on the shaft of the hair, and will be stuck on the hair.
“If you’re wondering: ‘Is this dandruff? Is this hair gel that’s stuck on?’ You can move that stuff around,” Dr. Lauer says. “A lice egg, you’re not going to be able to move. It’s stuck.”
If you do find lice in your children’s hair, Dr. Lauer insists it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
“Lice has nothing to do with personal hygiene,” she says. “They only have to do with opportunity. You were in the right place at the right time.”
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