In early 2016, parents of elementary school children were in for a shock when they heard about a new safety threat for their children: “superlice.” Identified in twenty-five states so far, their persistent nature and repeated return to classrooms and heads all over the country has many parents worried about their ability to fight off lice at home.
However, despite a louder call for concern in the media, parents: take a breath. You can handle this. We’ve got five must-know bits of information for you to navigate the age of superlice in an informed and prepared fashion.
No one is immune.
Contrary to some of the myths and old wives’ tales you may have heard, anyone can get lice. It knows no race, gender, or even level of hygiene. The only people who are unlikely to contract lice are those without hair. So, if your child has hair, a case of lice is a possibility. Diligence is essential, so don’t get caught off guard by thinking “it can’t happen to me,” only to have an itchy head turn out to be something far more serious.
These lice are “super” in their resistance to be treated, not in their ability to spread.
First things first: let’s define our terms. “Super lice” are the result of a mutation from prior forms of lice, but this doesn’t imbue them with superpowers. One of the most persistent myths surrounding lice is that they are contagious because they “jump” from head to head. Even though these lice are more persistent than their ancestors, they didn’t gain the ability to hop in the process.
These lice are super, however, in the sense that traditional methods of exterminating them are no longer working. Traditionally, classes of chemicals called pyrethrins and permethrins have been used to kill lice in shampoos and scalp treatments. But, this new strain of lice has evolved to resist these methods of treatment. You may be asking, “if these don’t work, then what do we do?” We’ll get to that in a moment.
Same rules apply for how to prevent them.
Although the methods to treat lice may have changed, the manner in which they’re caught remains the same. Lice thrive on close contact between people to move from host to host. This can happen in one of two ways: close contact, through touching heads; or sharing of items that closely touch heads, like grooming tools or hats.
The constancy of how lice are spread means that avoiding these behaviors and scenarios where they’re happening is an effective means to prevent them. Encourage other parents, teachers, babysitters, and others who have contact with your kids to be open about any active cases in the community. Talk to your children about the dangers and symptoms of lice, and what they can do to keep themselves safe. Advise them to not share combs and brushes with friends, and to avoid bowing heads near friends who may have or recently have had lice.
Manual removal is your best course of action.
Now, on to treatment. In the absence of chemical assistance to combat lice, what do you have? The same method that humans (and some primates) have used for hundreds of years: manual removal. The wet combing method, performed by finely sectioning hair and using a nit-removal comb to pull nits and lice away from the scalp, is the best way to ensure that every last trace of a lice infestation is removed.
There are products that use enzymes and proteins to weaken the waxy shell that encases lice before exterminating them, but these methods should be used in concert with―and not to replace ―a manual removal strategy. The more thorough you are in employing this method, the less likely lice are to return.
You have the power to beat this.
Although it’s true that super lice are powerful, and, frankly, more powerful than ever before, it doesn’t mean that you or your family have to surrender to them. The media has led many to believe that there is no hope in defeating this highly persistent strain of lice, but that’s simply not true.
Knowing how lice spread, educating your kids and family on how to prevent lice from coming home, and acting fast to remove them if they do make it in, can all make a world of difference in the fight against super lice.