Everything You Need to Know About Super Lice

Vilma Ruddock
Mother using a comb to look for head lice

Super lice are variants of regular head lice that have genetic mutations that make them resistant to standard over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. This kind of evolution is not uncommon in the world of human infestations, given the overuse of drugs to attack bugs. Talk to your doctor if you think your child has super lice and needs prescription medicines to get rid of the parasite critters.

Head lice

Understanding Super Lice

All creatures evolve to try to survive changes in their environment, and so have head lice. Through genetic evolution, these annoying, itchy creatures that can spread from one little head to another in a classroom, have acquired the tools to fight off the over-the-counter preparations that used to work so well. If your child is still scratching his head after standard anti-lice treatment, and you are scratching yours in puzzlement (and maybe lice too), this evolution to super lice might be the reason for it.

Resitance to Standard Treatment

Researchers published a study of lice conducted in 138 U. S communities in 48 states in March 2016 in the Journal of Medical Entomology, an Oxford journal. They found 132 of these communities had lice that were resistant to permethrin, the active ingredient in the anti-lice Nix® test product. The researchers noted that this resistance parallels known gene mutations in the U. S. lice population since 1998.

Under-Treated Regular Lice Can Be Mistaken for Super Lice

Before you can make a case for an evolution of regular head lice to super lice in your situation, first make sure you have taken all recommended steps. Ensure that your suspected infested child and others in your home are examined and treated. In addition, take all steps to rid your household fittings of eggs and lice to prevent reinfestation. Since super lice do not look any different from regular lice, it's important to make sure you have taken all the necessary steps for eliminating standard lice before considering a super lice infestation.

Lice Problem

Search For and Remove Eggs and Live Lice

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) head lice spread mostly by head-to-head contact. Round up and remove the eggs (nits) and lice, at all stages from young (nymphs) to adults, from the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes.

Head lice life cycle

Note that head lice sit on the scalp as well as hang on to the base of hair near the scalp and feed on blood. They lay and attach their eggs to the hair shaft where they hatch in nine to ten days. Repeat examination and retreatment catches newly hatched eggs.

According to Web MD, nits are one millimeter, or 0.03 inches, in size and look like light brown or grey ovals. Adult lice range in size from 2.5 millimeters (0.1 inches) to 3.5 millimeters (0.14 inches).

Meticulous Removal

Because OTC anti-lice preparations are nerve-toxic pesticides, Consumer Reports recommends physical removal as the preferred, safer method to rid your child of lice. In any case, meticulous removal of lice and eggs from scalp and hair is an important part of any treatment strategy for regular or super lice:

  • Use a bright light and a magnifying glass to see better.
  • Wet the hair with a conditioner or other lubricant such as olive or coconut oil.
  • Separate and comb through the hair in small sections with a fine-tooth metal lice comb, looking for eggs and lice.
  • After combing a section, wipe the comb on paper towel, inspect for lice and discard the paper towel in a plastic bag.
  • Pay attention to behind the ears and neck, and the eyebrows and eyelashes.
Head lice treatment

Standard Treatment with OTC Medicines

Lice can live in hair for about 30 days if they don't first succumb to treatment. The most often recommended over-the-counter anti-lice medicines are Rid shampoo and Nix (Permethrin). Use an OTC preparation only if you find lice and cannot comb them all out of the hair.

  • Follow the directions to apply and wash out your product of choice after searching for and picking out lice.
  • Apply a second treatment seven to ten days after the first to get rid of newly hatched eggs.
  • After each treatment, every day for about two weeks, part and comb the hair to look for any lice that may be newly hatched.

The manufacturer of Nix also recommends Nix® Ultra Super Lice Treatment for OTC treatment of super lice.

Prevention of Lice Reinfestation

Lice easily spread from through person-to-person contact so it is important to address all sources of the parasite. Whether you are dealing with regular lice or super lice, at the same time you are treating the kids and others, take the following steps to prevent the risk of lice reinfestation in your house:

  • Vacuum all carpets, furniture, bedding, stuffed animals and car seats, especially in kids bedrooms and playrooms.
  • Wash all clothes, bed linen, and headwear in hot water and dry them on high heat.
  • Seal non-washable items in a bag for two weeks before using.

If you have taken all the recommended steps and your child is still itching and scratching, take him to his doctor to discuss prescription medicines in case he has super lice.

Prescription Medicines for Super Lice

Prescription lotions pediatricians may recommend for OTC treatment-resistant super lice include:

  • Ivermectin (Sklice) is applied to the scalp once. It is approved for use at age 6 months and older.
  • Malathion lotion is applied once to the scalp, then repeated seven days later if live lice are present. It can be used from age 6 years and up,
  • Spinosad lotion can be used from 4 months and older. Apply as directed to the scalp once, then seven days later if necessary.

These drugs are more expensive than OTC products and they have similar concerns for toxicities in children, according to the Consumer Report review cited above in the section on lice removal.

Persistent Parasites

If you are confronted with a case of head lice that just won't seem to go way, take a look at at how you have dealt with it before concluding it's super lice. Check with your doctor if you believe you have done everything right but the situation is worse a week after treatment, or the parasites still persist in three weeks to four weeks. In addition, think about the pros and cons of the chemical treatment of lice, especially in a child. Consider using home remedies instead.

Everything You Need to Know About Super Lice