Let’s face it: Head lice are, in a word, lousy. An estimated 6 to 12 million American children get head lice every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Beyond the discomfort and inconvenience of lice infestations, it’s hard to get rid of the pests – and it just may have gotten more difficult. New research has found that the treatments commonly used to treat them may be ineffective as the bugs are becoming more resistant to the standard medications.
Researchers say that some lice are resistant to pyrethroids, an ingredient in most over-the-counter remedies. With the help of public health officials, the research group from Southern Illinois University tested samples of lice from 30 states. They found drug-resistant lice in samples from 25 states, including North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Pyrethroids are a type of pesticide that is used in popular lice treatments found at drug stores. Common products with the ingredient include brand names such as Pronto, Triple X and RID.
So if these treatments are no longer effective, what should parents do?
“There are still plenty of effective medicines, but you need a prescription to obtain them,” said Dr. Genevieve Brauning, a family medicine practitioner at Novant Health SouthPark Family Physicians. “Before parents could effectively treat their children with drugstore products, but as the lice have become resistant, the products don’t work or they require multiple applications.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued new guidance for parents in areas where lice were developing resistance to over-the-counter treatments. It recommended getting a pediatrician to prescribe spinosad or topical ivermectin.
“Though tedious, using a nit comb to comb out the lice works, but it has to be repeated multiple times,” Brauning said. “The first combing session removes hatched lice, but not their eggs, so the process is repeated every four days until no lice are found when combing through a child’s hair. Only after three sessions where no lice are seen can you assume that the problem is resolved.”
The Internet also offers an abundance of home remedies on eliminating lice, including smothering an infected child’s scalp with petroleum jelly overnight, using baby oil to remove the petroleum jelly the next day, combing the lice out the hair and repeating the process over the next several days. No wonder parents are overwhelmed by the thought of treating lice.
Brauning says olive oil is a good home remedy. Coat the hair and scalp in olive oil and cover the head in plastic wrap making sure no air is trapped under the wrap. The oil will smother the head lice.
After two to three hours, remove the wrap, shampoo the hair and comb it with a nit comb to remove the dead lice. Sometimes, the hair will need shampooing several times to remove the oil.
The CDC has a full page of step-by-step advice on treating the infected person and the house for lice. If it all seems too overwhelming, parents can take solace in knowing they can hire a service to help out.