Head lice warning: Parents cautioned about ‘super’ breed that are resistant to over-the-counter treatments

A new breed of so-called ‘super head lice’ could mean that traditional ways to treat the irritating insects no longer work.

By Lloyd Bent
Wednesday, 03 July, 2019, 15:23
Head lice can be difficult to get rid of.

Parents are being warned not to waste their money on over-the-counter treatments at chemists as the bugs have evolved and are no longer vulnerable to them.

Head lice are particularly common among primary school aged children.

How have they mutated?

Ian Burgess, of Insect Research & Development Limited, said when home head lice treatment Lyclear Creme Rinse hit the market it "swept the board" in terms of popularity among parents. However, that go-to solution to the problem no longer works, according to scientists. They say the bugs have learned how to biologically cope with the incesticide in the product.

Mr Burgess has said that bugs surviving this common treatment is now a “worldwide phenomenon.”

Research by Journal of Medical Entomology (JME) revealed that 98 per cent of head lice are now resistant to common treatments. The 2016 study found that head lice were able to grow gene mutations, which helped them resist insecticides, also known as pyrethrins, pyrethroids, and permathrins.

What should you do?

Professor Craig Williams, of the University of South Australia, has been involved in looking into ways to deal with the new super lice.

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Speaking to 7NEWS, he said, "Super lice would be the name we would give to lice that have become resistant to some of the treatments to kill them."

He said that the development mutated nits is similar to antibiotic resistance and gets worse the more insecticide is used. Instead he suggested the age-old method.

"Cheap hair conditioner and a nit comb, and manually comb them out," he advised.

What are head lice?

Head lice are tiny brown insects that thrive on the scalp. The white eggs they hatch from stick to the hair - these are known as ‘nits’.

A commonly used method to kill them is to use a wet bug-busting comb and conditioner, which has to be done multiple times.

The other option is to use the lotions and treatments that contain insecticide.