A super strain of head lice has hit half the country in recent months. The so-called “super lice” are resistant to pytheroids, the bug-fighting ingredient found in most over-the-counter (OTC) medicines used to fight lice.
Head lice are parasitic insects that live in human hair and feed off of blood drawn from the scalp. A common occurrence in kids, lice are contagious, annoying and sometimes tough to get rid of. And although head lice do not spread disease, their bites can make a child’s scalp itchy and scratching can lead to infection.
Last August, Kyong Yoon, PhD, an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsvillle, was part of the research team that initially discovered the new ultra-resistant strains. Yoon and his colleagues wanted to know how widespread these resistant strains were.
“We collected 109 lice populations and 104 had high levels of gene mutations,” Yoon reported at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in August. Yoon told TODAY that over the years head lice have evolved in such a way that pytheroids were no longer effective against the insects. Yoon added, however, that their findings didn’t necessarily mean that OTC treatments no longer work, but that higher doses might be needed.
Robin Gehris, MD, a pediatric dermatologist at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, agreed that OTC mixes are still an option for treating head lice, but cautioned parents to use them exactly as directed.
According to Gehris, some OTC therapies don’t kill all the eggs the first time, and survivors will hatch about a week later. That’s why she advises applying the treatment a second time five to seven days after the first one.
Gehris also said it is important to leave the treatment on long enough. “You want to leave it on overnight with a shower cap,” she told TODAY. “A common reason for failure is that the children don’t like the smell and want to wash it off soon.”
If the lice persist, a new FDA-approved treatment is now available. Developed by Lice Clinics of America, AirAlle has been found to destroy drug-resistant super lice.
“We use heated air, and we dehydrate the lice and eggs in a single treatment,” CEO Clair Roberts told KSDK. “It takes about an hour, and we guarantee it.”
The treatment costs $170. Some insurance companies will cover the treatment.
To prevent your children from getting lice in the first place, experts advise that you teach them not to share such items as hats, combs, hairbrushes, hair accessories, scarves, helmets and even towels. Because head lice are so contagious, children should avoid playing with their heads close together.
At home, shared spaces such as closets, drawers and areas where belongings such as hats and scarves are stored can harbor lice. These items should be stored separately to prevent the spread of lice. If you are treating a child with lice, you should wash beddings and clothes worn in the last 48 hours in hot water.
It is also important to note that the use of medicines is not recommended for treating lice in children under two years. Instead, BabyCentre recommends that you remove live lice from your child’s wet hair with a fine-tooth nit comb. You should repeat the procedure three more times over 14 days to break the life cycle of lice and remove them.