Super Lice Outbreak Confirmed In 48 States

A super lice outbreak has reached 48 states as children throughout the nation are preparing to begin a new school year. Although the tiny wingless insects are resistant to over-the-counter remedies and can cause intense itching, medical professionals insist there is no reason to panic, because lice do not carry or spread disease.

As explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, head lice are tiny wingless insects that attach themselves to and lay their eggs on shafts of human hair.

Although the insects cannot fly or jump, they can spread via direct contact. Therefore, the CDC recommends avoiding head-to-head contact and sharing clothing and other accessories that come in direct contact with the head.

According to the CDC, “an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age.”

It is suggested that girls are more likely to get head lice, as they are more likely to have direct head-to-head contact and share hair accessories and clothing. The CDC also notes that African Americans are less likely to get or spread head lice than any other race.

Although it is a common misconception, there is no evidence to suggest lice are associated in any way with poor hygiene.

Historically, lice were easily eliminated with over-the-counter insecticides and special combs, which remove the eggs from the hair shaft. Unfortunately, the tiny insects have developed mutations, which make them resistant to the most common over-the-counter insecticides, which are called pyrethroids. The mutated lice are being referred to as “super lice.”

A study, published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, examined lice from 48 states to determine whether they have mutated to be resistant to over-the-counter insecticides.

As reported by Texas Home Page, the researchers concluded that nearly 100 percent of the tested lice, which were collected from 138 different locations, had mutated into super lice and are likely immune to most over-the-counter remedies.

According to the report, the lice collected in 42 states tested positive for three mutations. The lice collected from the remaining six states tested positive for at least one mutation. The results indicate the super lice outbreak is widespread, and the most common remedies may not work.

The researchers noted the lice collected from one of the 138 locations, which was in Michigan, did not test positive for any mutations.

Although lice are terribly annoying and super lice appear to be spreading at an alarming rate, medical professionals insist the insects are not dangerous.

In an interview with KOMO News, Cleveland Clinic Children’s pediatrician Dr. Emma Raizman said lice infestations are a common and generally minor issue, and children should not be sent home from school unless the infection is severe.

“If it’s a mild infection, really the school nurse should call the parents, let them know, but they should stay in school. If it’s a severe infection we may want to actually send them home, get them treated, but then they should come right back.”

Although super lice are resistant to over-the-counter insecticides, prescription treatments have proven effective for removing a majority of super lice, and special combs are effective for removing eggs from the hair shaft.

In addition to treating the hair, Raizman has several suggestions for removing lice from the home and preventing a reinfestation.

“Anything you can’t wash you want to just put in a trash bag and let it sit for about two weeks because that’s pretty much the life-cycle of the lice and so, if there are any eggs that will take care of it as well.”

According to the CDC, lice and super lice are most often spread via direct contact. Therefore, it is specifically important to avoid head-to-head contact where outbreaks have been reported.

[Image via Protasov AN/Shutterstock]