As parents start to prepare their kids to go back to school, experts say they will have to be wary of super head lice resistant to traditional treatments.
A study by the Journal of Medical Entomology suggests 97 per cent of North American lice sampled have evolved into a powerful strain of bugs immune to the key ingredient used in most treatment products such as creams, sprays and shampoos.
The new strain of blood-sucking parasites dominates Canadian cases.
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“Basically what has happened is that lice have developed a gene mutation. Most common over-the-counter treatments are not working anymore,” Dawn Mucci said, founder of Lice Squad, a lice removal service in Canada.
But the battle against the pesky insects that thrive on the human scalp has taken a different turn.
“Lice will crawl from one head to the other. And we see it a lot in teenagers because they are putting their heads together for selfies,” Mucci said.
The worst part is, Mucci said, her team across Canada can’t keep up with demand.
“We’ve been slammed. We had our busiest summer ever this year,” she said.
And a busy summer usually means an even busier fall with kids preparing to go back to school.
“That’s when it spikes,” Mucci explained.
What’s made getting rid of head lice particularly complicated these days is also the fact that many school boards no longer have a head lice policy, Mucci said. The Canadian Pediatric Society changed its policy on head lice in 2008 to no longer ban children from returning to class until the insects are gone.
That’s why prevention is key. The best way to prevent head lice is to avoid head to head or hair to item contact.
“Selfies, sharing brushes, pillows and headrests all pose a contraction risk,” Mucci said.
During the first weeks of school, spray the hair with essential oils like tea tree oil.
Treating head lice
A new way of treating head lice – a mineral called HDM20 – has become increasingly popular. It’s natural and can kill off super lice, Mucci said.
“It literally sucks the moisture out of head lice and eggs,” Mucci said. “We are starting to use that ourselves in our lice removal business. It’s natural and safe.”
WATCH: The Lice Squad even holds “lice removal parties.”
The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends home remedies such as mayonnaise, petroleum jelly, olive oil or margarine. These products will make it hard for lice to breathe, but it probably won’t kill them.
READ MORE: Tips to treat head lice and prevent reinfestation
They also recommend using a fine-toothed comb. The teeth of the comb should be long enough to be able to remove lice eggs as well.
Although most lice have developed a resistance to insecticides, in Canada, three chemicals are approved. Pyrethrin and Lindane are found in treatment shampoos and conditioners, and Permethrin is found in treatment creams.
However, products with lindane should not be used on infants or young children younger than 2 years of age, the society warns. The World Health Organization found it caused cancer.