How to get rid of super lice

The new generation of super lice are much harder to kill. But there's hope! Here's how to get rid of those creepy critters.

little girl with super lice scratching her head

When Nancy Ripton noticed white specks on her scalp, she picked up some dandruff shampoo and figured, OK, problem solved. But then she got the dreaded note from school—there was a lice outbreak in her son Bode’s junior kindergarten class. “Practically our whole family had it,” says the mother of three. An over-the-counter chemical delousing shampoo coupled with carefully combing to remove all the eggs did the trick. But the next year, both her boys, Bode, 7, and Beckett, 5, came home with head lice again. This time, she couldn’t get rid of the bugs.

Ripton isn’t the only parent noticing lice are getting harder to beat. A recently published study in the Journal of Medical Entomology examining lice from 2007 to 2009 shows these tiny pests are becoming increasingly resistant to pyrethrins and pyrethroids, the insecticides commonly found in anti-lice products. These “super lice” now make up 97 percent of head lice cases in Canada. “Lice have evolved, like all nature does,” says Dawn Mucci, founder of the Lice Squad in Innisville, Ont. But fear not—here’s how to tackle these creepy critters:

1. How to avoid spreading super lice

According to Henry Ukpeh, a paediatrician in Trail, BC, the best defense against lice is to avoid head-to-head contact and sharing things like brushes or hats. He also suggests cutting kids’ hair shorter, or keeping long hair tied back in braids or ponytails, because lice move between people by crawling onto hair.

2. How to treat super lice

Skip the chemicals and opt for products that work by dissolving the louse’s waxy exoskeleton, which leads to dehydration and death (see image below for treatment options). A smothering agent like olive or coconut oil may also do the trick. If all else fails, consult a lice-removal service (most have access to an AirAllé, a medical device that kills lice and their nits with heated air).

3. Comb out super lice

“A quality lice comb is crucial because it interrupts their life cycle,” says Mucci. The best ones are made with fine metal teeth that are close together, making them more effective at removing eggs before they hatch.

4. Clean house

Anything that can be put in the dryer, like sheets, pillowcases, stuffies and hats, should go in for 30 minutes. Items that can’t be put in the dryer or vacuumed should be sealed in garbage bags for two days. Says Mucci, “Lice die within 24 to 48 hours away from their blood supply, the scalp.”

Ripton decided to call in the pros for her infestation: “A year and a half later, and we haven’t had lice since.”

Super Lice Facts

• do not hop or fly, but can crawl quite quickly

• are about the size of a sesame seed and are usually found close to the scalp, behind the ears and at the base of the neck

• can live for up to 30 days on a person’s head, but die within two days away from the scalp (if they procreate, they’ll stick around for much longer if left untreated)

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Products we like, from left to right

Head Lice treatment, $34, nyda.ca (This product was awarded a Today’s Parent Approved 2015 Seal)

Licemeister comb, $24, shoppersdrugmart.ca

Nit Pickers Secret Enzyme Shampoo, $50, licesquad.com

A version of this story appeared in our October 2014 issue with the headline “Bugging Out,” p. 32.
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