Super Lice on the Loose

A strain of lice resistant to most over-the-counter treatments has arrived in Kentucky. Getting them out may require a prescription.

If just the thought of lice makes you itch or gives you the heebie-jeebies, don’t fret. While this strain of “super lice” may be more difficult to treat, you can get rid of them. Be ready to check the heads in your household and call your pediatrician if the critters try to move in.

What do lice look like?

Head lice and their eggs, called “nits,” are visible with the naked eye, but it may be helpful to use a magnifying glass or reading glasses during a head check. Lice are about the size of a sesame seed and generally stay close to the scalp. The nits are oval, light-colored and about the size of a grain of sand. Lice lay their eggs close to the scalp, attaching them to the base of hair follicles.

Symptoms that your child may have lice include a tickling feeling or sensation of something moving in the hair, intense itching and scratching, sometimes to the point of getting open sores. Irritability and sleeplessness — side effects of the itching and scratching — also can be a tip-off that lice are present, said pediatrician Melissa D. Agan, M.D., with Norton Children’s Hospital Medical Associates – Brownsboro.

To check for either, carefully comb through hair with a very fine-toothed comb and view anything that comes out on the comb. Be careful that you don’t mistake dried hair care products, dandruff or other skin conditions for lice or nits.

How do I get rid of them?

Getting rid of head lice can be challenging. He advises using an FDA-approved over-the-counter treatment. In addition, lice and nits should be removed from wet hair with a fine-toothed comb. Children with head lice should not share pillows or combs with siblings, or have head-to-head contact with others.

Be sure to follow the steps on the package carefully. If the product doesn’t work, you might be dealing with super lice and you’ll need to contact your pediatrician for something stronger. You’ll also need to properly treat items that may have been in contact with the infested head, including hairbrushes, clothing and bedding. Read the medication’s directions on the best way to do that.

Anyone who has had close contact with an affected person also should be checked, to determine if they need treatment. If no live lice or nits are found, they do not need medication, unless they share a bed with the affected person.

How would I get head lice in the first place?

The most common way to get head lice is head-to-head contact with a person who has an active infestation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Transmission can happen on a school bus, during sports activities, on the playground or at a sleepover, among other places. Even huddling close together while taking selfies can lead to lice making the move from one head to another.

In the United States, as many as 12 million children contract head lice each year, according to the CDC. Preschool and elementary-age children and their household members and caretakers are most likely to get hit by these highly contagious parasites.

“Head lice do not fly or jump from person to person and are not passed from pets to humans,” Dr. Agan said. “A lice diagnosis does not mean that your child’s school or home is unclean. Great personal hygiene cannot prevent lice.”

The CDC says the following are less likely — but still possible — ways of catching head lice:

• Wearing clothing, such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms or hair ribbons, worn by a person with a lice infestation
• Using infested combs, hairbrushes or towels
• Lying on a bed, couch, pillow, carpet or stuffed animal that has recently been in contact with a person who has a lice infestation

If you head lice has entered your home and over-the-counter medications do not work, call your pediatrician or primary care physician. If you don’t have a physician, visit one of our 13 Norton Immediate Care Centers.

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