What You Need to Know About Super Lice

When we hear the term, “superbug” we usually think of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, not head lice, but people are abuzz with news of a different kind of superbug – a parasite which has been dubbed “super lice.” Super lice have now spread to 25 states. Is your head itching yet?

What are lice?

  • Head lice are tiny, 6-legged insects; usually grayish-white, but if containing blood, they may be a shade of red.
  • Despite the belief that lice can jump or fly from head to head, they can’t. But, they can crawl very quickly.
  • Nits, or lice eggs, may be mistaken for dandruff. They usually attach themselves firmly to the base of the hair-shaft, often behind the ears near the neck.
  • A nymph is what hatches from the egg and feeds on blood; this is also called an immature louse.
  • An adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed and also feeds on blood.
  • Household pets do not play a role in the transmission of human lice.

Super lice are the same as regular lice, but contain a gene mutation which may be resistant to a widely-used over the counter treatment. Neither super lice nor regular lice carry disease.

What are symptoms of lice infestation?

  • An allergic reaction to lice often causes itching, but not always right away. Sometimes it can take weeks for itching to start.
  • A ticklish feeling on the head.
  • Red bumps on the neck or scalp.

How can super lice be treated?

  • Avoid sharing anything that touches another head; including brushes, combs, hats or helmets.
  • Comb nits out of the hair with a fine metal comb with narrow teeth after treating the scalp nightly for at least a week with an over the counter product.
  • Wash clothing, bedding and anything you can in hot, soapy water and then place items in the dryer for more than 30 minutes.
  • Lice usually won’t live more than a few days without a blood supply, so anything that can’t be dried should be placed in plastic bags (preferably in a garage or place where they cannot reach a human) for 14 days.
  • You can still use over the counter lice treatments, but you should retreat after 7 days (the length of the life cycle of a louse).
  • Make sure you are carefully following the treatment recommendations and leaving the product on for the desired time at a minimum.

If you still find lice after 2 rounds of an at-home treatment, consult your pediatrician to see if a prescription is right for your child.

Nicole Caldwell, MD
Nicole V. Caldwell, MD, is a staff physician in Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Section of Ambulatory Pediatrics and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. She provides direct patient care and supervises pediatric residents in the Main Campus Primary Care Center, Red Team. Her professional interests include behavioral pediatrics, developmental pediatrics, and the promotion of early literacy.

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