Head lice, those pesky little critters, seem to be frustrating kids and parents everywhere. And if lice weren’t already hard enough to get rid of, now families have to worry about “super lice” which are bringing the problem to a whole new level.
Super lice are resistant to the typical over-the-counter treatments that are used against them. Super lice look and act exactly like other lice, they’ve just adapted to survive pyrethroids, the most common chemical treatments used to eliminate them.
Fortunately, head lice don’t carry disease, but they often cause itching and irritation of the scalp, which is how most parents notice them. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated six million to 12 million head lice infestations occur each year in the U.S., most commonly among children three to 11 years old. Remember that head lice are in virtually every community, and can affect any child or family, so there shouldn’t be any more stigma to getting them than coming down with a cold. You can reduce your family’s risk of getting lice by following these guidelines:
- Keep long hair tied up in ponytails, braids or a bun
- Don’t let your children share combs, brushes, hats or scarves
- Perform regular head checks for lice and nits
Getting Rid of Lice
One you detect the signs of lice infestation, you need a plan to get rid of them. Although super lice are now reported to be in Massachusetts, over-the-counter treatments still should be the first line of treatment. After each treatment, checking the hair and combing with a nit comb to remove nits and lice every 2–3 days may decrease the chance of self–reinfestation. Continue to check for 2–3 weeks to be sure all lice and nits are gone.
If over-the-counter treatment does not work, consider consulting with your primary care doctor for a prescription medication. An added benefit of some newer prescription treatments is that they also kill lice eggs. Whatever treatment you use, be sure to follow the instructions as closely as possible.
One reason dealing with lice is so difficult is because of the lice eggs, also called nits. Head lice lay their nits on hair shafts using a glue-like substance which makes them very difficult to remove. If just one nit hatches, lice can come back. That’s why it’s so important to make sure all nits are either killed by treatment or manually removed. The easiest way to remove nits is with a special fine-toothed comb. Using a hair conditioner can make this process easier.
There are also professional services that will come to your home and manually remove lice for you. Many people find this is a more convenient way to tackle the problem, and this method does not require chemical treatments. You can ask your pediatrician or school nurse to recommend a local lice treatment service or do a search on the Internet. Be sure to follow all the guidelines that the lice service recommends so the lice don’t make a return appearance.
Key ways to eliminate lice in the home:
- Wash all bed sheets and blankets in hot water and dry in a dryer with a hot setting.
- Wash and dry all clothes that have been worn in the past two days or that have been on the floor
- Vacuum all sofas, chairs, car seats, large pillows, carpets and area rugs
- Boil or throw away all hair brushes, combs and accessories
- Place items that cannot be boiled or washed in tightly sealed plastic bags and place in the freezer for 10-12 hours to kill the lice and eggs
- Place items like stuffed animals, pillows, toys, and backpacks that are too big for a freezer in a tightly sealed plastic bag for 10-14 days
- Other family members and/or roommates should also be evaluated for lice and treated appropriately.
Above all, if you encounter a head lice problem with your children, try to stay positive. Although it can be incredibly frustrating experience, things will eventually get back to normal. It’s also a good idea to inform your child’s school nurse.