Facts about 'super lice' and how to avoid them

lice girlHave you been hearing more about “super lice” and worrying about giant lice invading your kids’ heads? Don't fear. “Super lice” are no bigger than regular lice — just much more pesky.

“The term 'super lice' is misleading and scary,” says Nancy Gordon, a member of the National Association of Head Lice Treatment Professionals.

The lice aren't bigger or more harmful. They have just become resistant to chemical-based, over-the-counter and prescription treatments, making them harder and more expensive to get rid of, Gordon says.

In Anne Arundel County schools, the number of cases of head lice was actually down so far this year, according to Karen Siska-Creel, the director of nursing for the Bureau of School Health and Support for the Anne Arundel County Department of Health. As of May, there had been 615 cases compared to 698 last year. It's hard to know, however, whether there have been any cases of “super lice,” she says.

“It's difficult to say if a parent isn't following proper recommended treatment measures or if the child actually has 'super lice,'” she wrote in an email.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, treatment-resistant head lice aren't a new problem. And unless resistance has been seen in a community, the first choice for treatment for active head lice infestations should be over-the-counter medications containing 1 percent permethrin or pyrethrins, the website says.


“It's important to understand that although some over-the-counter treatments may no longer be as effective as they once were, these first-line treatments still work the majority of the time when used correctly,” the Mayo Clinic website states.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that if these treatments are not working, to see a health care provider who may prescribe a stronger treatment regimen.

Gordon, however, warns that there are side effects associated with chemicals in the stronger treatments.

“No device, chemical treatment or product offers a 'miracle cure' for getting rid of head lice,” she says. “What does work is to manually remove them. This involves going through and combing all the lice and nits out of the hair. This is what's needed in order to be successful in ridding any child from lice. Without it, lice are not eliminated.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, the best way to avoid lice is to instruct your child:

  • To avoid head-to-head contact with classmates during play.
  • Not to share personal belongings such as hats, combs, brushes, hair accessories and headphones.
  • To avoid shared spaces where hats and clothing from more than one student are hung on a common hook or kept in a locker.

By Betsy Stein