As if lice weren't bad enough, now parents have a new bug to fear: super lice, and they may be coming to a school near you.
New research published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, a publication of the Entomological Society of America, shows that lice are becoming increasingly difficult to remove. That's thanks to a new strain of critter that is resistant to traditional treatments. In fact, this new strain — dubbed "super lice" — doesn't seem to respond to any of the over-the-counter lice treatments currently on the market. And these super lice are spreading more quickly than health experts had initially feared.
The study, conducted by John Clark, a professor of environmental toxicology and chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, looked at the genes of lice from 32 sites in the U.S. and Canada. Researchers found that 99.6 percent of those tested in 2007-09 were genetically resistant to the pyrethrin- and permethrin-based lice treatments currently on store shelves. These are the chemicals most frequently used to treat lice.
How did these lice become 'super?' When over-the-counter treatments aren't used correctly — maybe not enough product used per kid or not left on for the required amount of time — the lice can not only survive, but they can also grow stronger. These stronger lice then get passed from kid to kid and over time become completely resistant to chemical treatments.
And this is exactly what parents are seeing now. In a new Harris poll of 2,000 U.S. mothers, about one-third said they were able to treat their child's lice with just one application of an OTC product. Sixty-eight percent reported that treatment required two or more applications or that no over-the-counter treatment resolved it.
So what should you do if your child comes home with lice? Don't panic. Super or not, there are ways to get rid of these creepy critters. For starters, there are a number of home remedies for lice that — while time-consuming — are more likely than their chemical counterparts to work. Tea tree oil and neem oil have also been shown to work on lice. If you can't stomach the thought of doing all that combing and picking yourself, there are a number of lice removal salons around the country, many of which use hot-air to kill and remove the bugs. And as a last resort, you could ask your doctor for a prescription lice treatment. But remember, it probably won't be long before even super lice are resistant to that.
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