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What You Need to Know About Super Lice

Mar 04, 2016

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.

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Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Nicole Caldwell, MD
Primary Care Pediatrics

Nicole V. Caldwell, MD, is a staff physician in Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Section of Primary Care Pediatrics and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.