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So Your Family Has Mutant Head Lice – Now What?

Drug-resistant Head Lice

Head lice. Just the thought of those little buggers makes my scalp start itching. And I’ve never even had lice! (Knock on wood)

Now they’re talking about drug-resistant head lice in the news. Imagine having tiny bugs infesting your head, and it seems like there’s nothing you can do to get rid of them short of shaving off all your hair.

As of this writing, many head lice populations in at least 25 states have become resistant to common over-the-counter treatments. Researchers say these so-called super lice have genetically mutated, allowing them to withstand exposure to the compound that is suppose to take them out.

Kids are back in school now – and we all know that’s where the infestations tend to start. So what are we supposed to do?

Before you get too freaked out, just realize that the situation isn’t as dire as it seems.

There are still methods for getting rid of head lice that are working. That includes certain prescription medications as well as the use of certain essential oils.

head louse
Magnified head louse in hair

The big problem is that head lice have become resistant to the most-common ingredients used to deal with an infestation – compounds called pyrethroids – which are often used as household insecticides.

Pyrethroids are similar to pyrethrins, which are produced by flowers like the chrysanthemum. However, while the FDA says pyrethroids are generally safe for most humans when used in low doses – they are still toxic. That’s why others believe pyrethroids may not be as safe as you think.

The compound kills parasites like lice by paralyzing them. Synthetic versions known as permethrin are found in products such as Nix and Rid – but also in Raid.

Even if you forget about any potential health hazards, the fact remains, that particular ingredient has become less effective because of genetic mutation among head lice.

Lice researcher, John Clark, spoke with WBUR’s Here and Now about recent findings and the emergence of drug-resistant lice. He said it’s important to have several different options for targeting lice.

We got to this point because most people went to the store to buy the same over-the-counter head lice treatments – partly because prescription medication was much more expensive. But Clark says there are other things that could work. That includes going to a combing salon as well applying essential oils classified as terpenes – specifically those that come from conifers like pine.

Listen – Head Lice Researcher on WBUR’s Here & Now

5 Steps for Getting Rid of Head Lice

If you think you or someone in your family has a lice infestation, here’s what you can do to identify the problem and take care of the situation.

1. Diagnose the Lice Infestation

First, you’ll need to make sure what you’re actually dealing with is lice. There could be other things causing the itching and irritation, like mites or fleas.

The best way to confirm a case of head lice is to find an adult louse. That may not be easy, as lice can crawl through human hair quite quickly. Using a magnifying glass could help.

The other way is to look for the eggs or nits. Nits are the empty eggs from lice. Both eggs with a louse embryo still inside and the nits can be found attached to hair near the base of the scalp.

2. Choose a Method to Target the Lice

Once you know you’ve got lice on your hands (or your heads), you’ll need to choose a way to get rid of them.

Depending on where you live, the head lice may or may not have developed a resistance to common over-the-counter treatments. If you’ve got a case of mutant, drug-resistant head lice, you may want to see a healthcare professional for advice.

Essential oils that could help include the following:

You will need to add the essential oils to some type of carrier oil, like olive oil. Typically, you’d use 2 ounces of carrier oil with about 15 to 20 drops of essential oil.

*Some essential oils may not be suitable for use on children – especially children two and under. You can test for irritation or allergic reaction by putting a small, diluted amount on the back of a child’s hand.

3. Comb Out Lice and Nits

No matter what type of method you use to target the lice and their eggs, you’re going to have to do some combing. You’ll need to get the dead lice and nits out of the scalp, and this could mean regular combings over several days.

Wet combing is what tends to work best. Plus there are specific nit combs designed to help remove the dead eggs.

Some people use things like coconut oil, neem oil or apple cider vinegar to help comb everything out. These products could also suffocate the lice and help move things along.

For more advice on combing, and a firsthand account of getting rid of lice, check out this article from RaisingOlives.com. That family actually added some tea tree oil to all the shampoo bottles in the house to help keep the infestation from spreading.

4. Wash Bedding and Clothing

You’ll want to wash all of the clothes of the person in your house who has the infestation. You should also wash all the bedding and pillows.

It’s important that the water is at least 130-degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature that has been shown to kill off lice and their eggs. It’s also a good idea to put your dryer on the highest heat setting too.

5. Keep an Eye Out for Signs of Life

After applying a treatment and going through the combing process, you’ll still want to watch for signs of an infestation. It’s suggested that you check the scalp two or three times a day to see if any more lice are hatching.

You will most likely continue to find nits. But that does not necessarily mean there are still head lice. Remember, nits are empty/dead eggs – just the shells.

7 Important Facts About Head Lice

1. Having Lice Doesn’t Make You a Dirty Person

There’s a misconception that you get lice from having bad hygiene. That’s just not true. You could have the cleanest family in town and still get a lice infestation.

2. Head Lice Can Only Crawl

These bugs don’t jump and they can’t fly. In fact, they are much less mobile when they are off a human head.

However, they do move very quickly among hair using their curved claws to grasp.

That’s why head-to-head contact is how a lice infestation usually spreads. You can pick up lice from wearing a hat, sharing combs and brushes or even headphones – but those possibilities are considered much less likely.

3. Head Lice Die Quickly When They Leave Your Head

Lice need human blood to stay alive. A louse that falls off a person’s head will only survive a few hours. An adult louse only lives a few weeks. But females can lay about 6 eggs a day.

4. Don’t Blame the Dog

Head lice have very specific tastes. They only feed on humans. So that means you can’t get lice from your pets or any other animals, and animals can’t catch them from you either. Humans are the only known hosts.

5. Don’t Confuse Dandruff and Nits

Are those white flaky things nits or do you just have a case of dry scalp with dandruff? You can tell the difference between nits and dandruff because nits will be firmly attached to the hair near the base, while dandruff will be loose.

6. Head Lice Probably Do not Spread Disease

There is no evidence that head lice carry any particular disease that is dangerous to humans. Sometimes excessive scratching can lead to a skin infection.

While head lice are mostly just irritating pests, the body louse is another story. Studies show those parasite do carry disease.

7. You Don’t Need to Fumigate

The presence of lice in your family and home will probably freak you out. But there’s not need to go to extreme measures.

The FDA says fumigating  your house is overkill.

“Do not use insecticide sprays or fogs; they are not necessary to control head lice and can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.”

Natural Products Formulated to Target Head Lice

hylands_wild-child-quit-nits-head-lice-kit_mainIn addition to beneficial essential oils, you’ll also find natural products formulated specifically to help deal with a head lice infestation.

One of the most popular products is Quit Nits. You’ll find the complete Quit Nits Kit as well as the Quit Nits spray available online at Natural Healthy Concepts with free shipping.

Visit the Quit Nits website to find out more about using these products. You’ll notice this product label says “no combing required.” That’s actually referring to the lice. You’ll still need to comb out the nits.

Wyndemere also makes a special blend of essential oils called Head Lice B Gone that could help. It contains tea tree oil as well as five other essential oils.

Do You Have a Head Lice Horror Story?

How did you deal with it? Tell us more in the comments below.

Featured Image via Flickr Creative CommonsAntonia Hayes