‘Super Lice’ Invading a School Near You

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Published September 12, 2008

| FoxNews.com

This time of year not only marks the start of school, it also marks a time when those creepy, crawly critters known as head lice like to pop up in classrooms across the country.

And while lice outbreaks are nothing new, they’re actually becoming more difficult treat. Some experts are bracing for so-called “super lice” which are becoming resistant to traditional over-the-counter medications.

In Cleveland, Metrohealth Medical Center pediatrician Dr. Robert Needlman says worldwide lice resistance is growing, MyFOXCleveland.com reported. He says the resistance is simply the parasite evolving.

"Every once in a while, up pops a louse who is resistant to the poison and that louse is successful evolutionarily and more and more lice have that resistance," Needlman said.

Although "super lice" is a real concern — the chances of your child bringing home "regular" lice is much more probable.

“We do see a fair amount of head lice,” Dr. Jessica Sessions, director of pediatrics at William F. Ryan Community Health Center in Manhattan, told FOXNews.com.

She said her problem is not resistance but parents improperly administering treatment.

”One of the key things is how the medication is used,” she said. “You have follow directions very carefully.”

Sessions said her first line of therapy is over-the-counter treatments. She said she reminds all of her patients never to use conditioner in their hair before the medication is applied because it won’t be able to penetrate the scalp.

“And make sure you use enough of the shampoo — especially if your child has long hair. Also, use a fine-toothed comb to try and remove the nits (lice eggs). If you don’t remove them all, the lice will come back.”

Sessions strongly recommends a second treatment seven to 10 days after the initial infestation.

“If over-the-counter products don’t work after the second treatment, then we will prescribe medication,” she said. “But after the prescription … personally I haven’t had to go further.”

Head lice and nits are found almost exclusively on the scalp, particularly around the nape of the neck.

Signs and Symptoms of lice include:

— Tickling sensation of something moving in the hair;

— Itching;

— Difficulty sleeping (head lice are more active in the dark);

— Sores on the back of the head because of scratching.

And, if one person is infested in your home, it’s very important to check every family member.

Once treatment has started, it’s time to start up the washing machine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing all items that have come in contact with an infested person, such as bedding and clothing. Lice and eggs are killed by exposure for 5 minutes to temperatures greater than 128-degrees, so make sure you use hot water. Everything else should be sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks.

In the U.S., infestation is most common among preschool children, day care centers and elementary schools. It’s estimated 6-12 million kids, ages 3 to 11, get head lice each year, the CDC said on its Web site.

The good news is that head lice cannot hop or fly. They are actually spread by head-to-head contact with an infested person or by sharing personal items such as hats, scarves, brushes or combs. And despite popular belief, contracting head lice has nothing to do with personal hygiene or cleanliness.

“Don’t share hair brushes, combs, hats or scarves,” Sessions said. “This is the most common way it’s transmitted. It’s not like hand washing is going to prevent it. It‘s really contact precaution — not sharing.”

There is hope on the horizon. Several promising products are awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration that are supposed to be effective against the “super lice.” The products are said to work against the critters in 30 minutes instead of up to 12 hours.

But, until then, parents will have to follow old guidelines and practice patience while using that fine-toothed comb through their child’s hair.

Click here for more information from the CDC.

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