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What You Need To Know About Super Lice


Head lice is a common problem among kids.  The CDC estimates the parasitic insects infest between six and 12-million children, ages three to 11, each year.  But Texas and at least 24 other states have reported cases of so-called super lice, which are harder to eliminate.

Dr. Donna Persaud, a pediatrician and Chief of Pediatric Community Medicine at Parkland Hospital, explains why.

Highlights from Dr. Persaud’s interview:

What are super lice? "It’s a descriptive term for strains of lice that are becoming resistant to the over-the-counter medications. Some of the lice have mutated, and after a few treatment, they’ve resisted and remain around. In some instances, the experts think that they may just need higher doses of the medications or to be treated longer. A percentage of the lice that are not going to respond to the over-the-counter medication and they’re going to need prescription medication. The resistance that has been discovered is to a pyrethoid in the medication. Medications that physicians can prescribe are different than that chemical. What we don’t want to do is move every child to prescription medication when the lice are resistant. (Why not?) The lice will become resistant even to those we prescribe, like bacteria."

How do lice transfer?  “Head to head. Kids play and their heads get together. The length and the thinness of the hair are two important things because it allows the egg to grab better, I think, and the lice to better probably. The other important thing is sharing brushes and combs and hair accessories because the eggs are known as nits – they’re tiny and barely visible to the eye – and you can transfer that through a comb. Also, for some children that have long eyelashes, they can sometimes have it on their eyelash.”

If you spot lice: "Use over-the-counter medication. Follow the instructions carefully. And look at everyone in the household  and treat everyone within reason who you believe might have lice. If the over-the-counter medication doesn’t work, than contact your child’s doctor to do two things: One, to make sure the diagnosis is correct and what is on the head is truly lice. And then to use some prescription medication."

For more information:

CDC: Head Lice 

Mutant 'super lice' spread to Western NY; new strain resists common medication: Five facts to know 

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.