Super Lice: How to Protect Your Kids

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ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Mar 2020
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When you hear that a “super mutant” strain of lice has been found in 25 states, you probably don’t feel great about sending your child off to school or daycare, where contagion takes on a super mutant speed of its own.

Every year, about 12 million kids between the ages of 3 and 11 contract lice. The parasites, only about 2 to 3 millimeters long, feed by injecting small amounts of saliva into the scalp, contracting tiny amounts of blood every few hours. And that saliva causes pruritus — severe itchiness — for the victim.

A new study, recently presented at the American Chemical Society, demonstrated what scientists knew was inevitable: Lice are becoming immune to our treatments, like pyrethroids — the insecticides found in an FDA-approved shampoo. More specifically, lice have developed what’s known as a KDR, or a knock-down resistance, mutation, which makes it harder to completely get rid of the infestation.

“We are the first group to collect lice samples from a large number of populations across the US,” researcher Kyong Yoon said. “What we found was that 104 out of the 109 lice populations we tested had high levels of gene mutations, which have been linked to resistance to pyrethroids.”

While the prevalence of this lice is alarming, it’s nothing to get too freaked out about. Here’s why:

  • The  Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says lice is not actually a health hazard. No diseases will be transmitted.
  •  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says over-the-counter treatments are still a suitable initial course of action. If those don’t work, you’ll need to see your child’s pediatrician for a prescription.
  • This isn’t even a new development. A 2014 study from University of Massachusetts Amherst found that in 2006, 99.6 percent of lice tested across the US and Canada was resistant to the drugs used to combat them.

If your child does come home with lice, it’s admittedly not a fun situation to tackle. However, in spite of the stigma, it’s nothing for your family to be embarrassed about. “It is important to note that head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene and are not responsible for the spread of any disease,” says the AAP.

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The AAP adds that prevention is tricky, since young children are frequently in head-to-head contact. However, the organization says “it is prudent for children to be taught not to share personal items, such as combs, brushes, and hats, but one should not refuse to wear protective headgear because of fear of head lice.”

Maybe consider having a talk with your child before she lays eyes on her new classroom’s dress up box.

See the map of affected states — in pink — below.

Photo: American Chemical Society

American Chemical Society

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