Head lice, Pediculus humanus capitis, are human parasites that largely escape notice except when there is an issue at a preschool or elementary school. Lately, headlines referring to “super lice” have gotten our attention, but is this cause for alarm?
Lice Resistance to Some Treatments
The term “super lice” refers to populations of head lice that are resistant to traditional pyrethroid-based over-the-counter treatments. Resistant lice have been found in at least twenty-five states all over the U.S. Head lice are not known to transmit diseases, so they are mostly an irritating nuisance, not a dire medical concern.
Avoiding and Treating Lice
Modifying your child’s behavior is key to combating lice and not acquiring them in the first place. Here are some tips for prevention and treatment:
- Do not share hats, helmets, garments, hairbrushes, combs, bows and other hair accessories and decorations, cell phones, pillows, and other objects that regularly come in contact with a child’s head or hair.
- Use special combs to comb out lice and “nits” (nits are lice eggs, which the insects cement to hair shafts and are difficult to remove).
- Consult your child’s pediatrician for recommended treatments. Consider visiting one of the hair lice salons that have recently emerged to specifically treat for lice.
- Respect your school’s re-admittance policy if you do find your child has lice.
- Do not stigmatize any child, or their parents or family, for having lice. Emotional distress can be worse than treating the lice. There is no place for bullying.
What NOT to do
Just as important as following safe, traditional protocols is not doing any of these:
- Do not apply pet shampoos, kerosene, or even prescription Lindane for treatment. Lindane is known to have serious side effects.
- Do not assume that safe, traditional treatments are now ineffective given the emergence of drug-resistant “super lice.”
Your best allies in the fight against lice are your pediatrician, and trusted resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Know you are not alone. Six to twelve million children ages 3-11 get lice each year according to the CDC.