Most states in the U.S. are dealing with a major outbreak of “super lice,” according to a new study in the Journal of Medical EntomologyThe thought alone is enough to make your skin crawl, but it’s especially troubling because the news comes at a time when children are starting to head back to school. [1]

Just How Bad is It?

Well, it’s pretty bad.

Scientists tested lice in 48 states and found that a shocking 42 of them are overrun with the mutant bugs. In these states, 100% of the lice tested were resistant to over-the-counter (OTC) treatments:

  • Washington
  • California
  • Nevada
  • Arizona
  • Utah
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Wyoming
  • Colorado
  • South Dakota
  • Nebraska
  • Kansas
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas
  • Louisiana
  • Arkansas
  • Missouri
  • Iowa
  • Minnesota
  • Wisconsin
  • Illinois
  • Mississippi
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • Florida
  • South Carolina
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Maryland
  • Delaware
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • New Hampshire
  • Maine
  • Hawaii

Some, but not all, of the lice tested in 6 other states – New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Oregon, New Mexico, and North Dakota – were found to be resistant to OTC treatments.

Alaska and West Virginia were not part of the study. [2]

Read: Home Remedies for Head Lice – Some Natural Solutions

OTC Lice Treatments

image-licemap

Traditionally, lice have been treated using insecticides called pyrethroids and pyrethrins.

To give you an idea of how overused pyrethroids have become, a 2014 study by the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), showed that of the urinary samples taken from adults and children in 90 California families, 2/3 had breakdown products of pyrethroids.

As of 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had found pyrethroids in more than 3,500 registered commercial products. [3]

I reported in April that pyrethroids used to be 100% effective against lice, but now they only work 25% of the time.

The problem is not just limited to head lice, either. Also in April, I wrote about how some bed bugs have become 1,000 times more resistant to pyrethroids, meaning that it in some cases, it took 1,000 times the normal amount of insecticide to kill some of the bed bugs.

So, pyrethroids and pyrethrins don’t work at all?

Not necessarily.

Study co-author Kyong Sup Yoon, an assistant professor in the department of biological sciences and environmental sciences at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, explained:

“This mutation makes them somewhat insensitive. But in most cases pyrethrins and pyrethroids can still kill lice with the mutation, if you apply way more of the compound.” [4]

The thing is, applying more and more of these chemicals to your child’s head isn’t something you want to be doing.

See, in 2008, the Center for Public Integrity analyzed 90,000 adverse reaction reports and found that health problems linked to pyrethroids had increased a whopping 300 times in 10 years.

The reports included complaints such as:

  • Burning and tingling skin
  • Respiratory trouble
  • Involuntary twitching
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Convulsions
  • Seizures

In fact, transport workers in Australia alleged they had suffered neurodegenerative diseases as a result of exposure to pyrethroids.

One study on Canadian children found that exposure to pyrethroids was associated with behavioral problems reported by parents, and another study linked prenatal exposure to piperonyl butoxide — an additive commonly used in pyrethroid sprays – with delayed mental development in toddlers. [3]

Are there any alternative treatments?

The good news is that, yes, there are natural treatments for lice. They may take a bit longer to work, but lice can’t become resistant to these treatments, and you won’t have to worry about exposing yourself or your family to harsh chemicals.

  • Lice combs. Just like when your dog or cat has fleas, combing is one of the best ways to get rid of lice. You must be thorough, so expect to spend at least an hour on a full head of hair. Do this once a week for 3 weeks. [5]
  • Olive oil. Apply to your scalp and hair and leave it in overnight under a shower cap. This will smother the lice. Then, in the morning, get out the nit comb and get rid of the dead bugs.
  • Essential oils. Mix 2 ounces of olive oil with 15 to 20 drops of the essential oil. Apply to the scalp using cotton balls. Leave this mixture on the scalp and hair overnight—at least 12 hours. Alternatively, mix the 15 to 20 drops of essential oil in 4 ounces of rubbing. In the morning, comb out the hair, then shampoo, rinse, and repeat. The best oils to use are:
  • Tea tree
  • Lavender
  • Neem
  • Clove
  • Eucalyptus
  • Aniseed
  • Cinnamon leaf
  • Red thyme
  • Peppermint
  • Nutmeg

Test whatever essential oil you are using on the back of the hand of the person you’re applying it to first, to make sure they are not allergic to it. [6]

Sources:

[1] The Daily Caller

[2] Country Living

[3] The Verge

[4] Today

[5] Mother Nature Network

[6] Healthline


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About Julie Fidler:
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.