I'm used to mutant turtles, but mutant lice???
By: Dr. Stacy Meyer
As the mother of two young boys, ages 3 and 5, I have plenty of knowledge on mutant species. From mutant turtles to mutated humans I am well versed, but mutant lice?? That is a new one! As you have likely heard, preliminary research out of Southern Illinois University has shown a strain of lice with genetic mutation that could make them resistant to our current over the counter, permethrin and pyrethrin based, treatment. These lice have now been found in over 25 of 30 sampled states including Ohio making us all scratch our heads (literally) about where they have come from.
Those of you who are avid gardeners or who work in agriculture may not be surprised that the “mutagen” in this case is our own treatment. Insects have long been known to develop resistance to repeated insecticide treatment and that is actually what seems to be the case with these pests. At least in the test tube environment, they are now surviving our typical chemical treatment. Although, head lice are not harmful to you or your child’s health they can be quite a nuisance and carry a social stigma.
How can you avoid head lice all together? Well as the mother of a soon to be kindergartner, I wish there was a clear answer! Children are naturally very sharing and often play in close contact making it easier to spread lice. Talk to your child about not wearing other children’s hats, using their combs or brushes or sharing helmets/headphones. These habits increase the risk of your child getting lice.
To check your child for lice, look at the roots of the hair near the ears and nape of the neck for small light brown seed-like attachments on the hair, nits. These nits will be attached tightly to the hair and difficult to pick-off unlike debris in the hair that is easily removed. Nits are easier to see than actual live adult lice which are very fast moving.
If you find lice in your home, the first line in treatment remains over the counter products and manual removal of nits. Many lice will still respond to this over the counter treatment and second line treatment is much more costly if needed. Follow the directions carefully from the product you choose. The American Academy of dermatology recommends evaluating the hair 8-12 hours after over the counter treatment. If lice remain active, it may be time to call your physician for other prescription treatment options. If no active lice remain, it’s time to get to work combing the hair with a lice comb to remove nits. This should be repeated daily for up to 2 weeks to ensure removal of all nits. Repeating treatment with over the counter products is recommended at day 7-9 to kill any new lice that may have hatched from nits that escaped notice.
It is also important to check all family members and treat your home after a case of head lice has been discovered. Soak all combs and brushes in 130 degree F water for 10 minutes, wash all bedding and hats in hot water, and run stuffed animals in the dryer on hot for 20-30 minutes. All objects that cannot be washed or placed in the dryer but may have been in contact with the hair of the infected individual should be placed in a plastic bag and sealed for two weeks. This is long enough to kill all lice and any that may hatch from eggs.
Here’s to hoping that we all make it through a school year without contact with these pests, but should they take up residence in your household, rest assured that there continues to be effective treatment available, even for those mutant strains.