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'Super lice' strain spreading among schoolchildren

6:32 AM, Oct 11, 2013   |    comments
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - A strain of super lice is going around local schools this year.

They're not your average lice because these are resistant to the usual treatments.

There's a lot of misinformation out there about this and how to get rid of it.

Head lice has nothing to do with cleanliness or hygiene. Like the common cold, it's something that happens to just about everyone at some point, especially children, who share hats and combs, who hug and touch hair.

"The types of outbreaks we hear about are at summer camps, in travel groups," Dr. Robin Gehris said.

Even so, the reaction is predictable.

"The kids are really embarrassed. They get really embarrassed with it," Deanna Hess, a nurse at the Mount Lebanon School District, said.

Lice are parasites that firmly attach to hair close to the scalp, especially at the neck and behind the ears. They need warmth and blood to survive.

"You can actually see under the microscope the attached nit. It even has a little cap on it if it's a live nit," Dr. Gehris said.

The first thing you might notice is itching.

"A lot of times the kids come up to us and say, Ms. Hess, my head is itching today. Can you check it?" Hess said.

Lice is easily treated with over-the-counter medicated shampoos and sprays containing the active ingredient permethrin.

Two treatments, a week apart, will get rid of the active, moving, contagious lice, plus any eggs that hatch after the initial application along with rigorous cleaning of bedding, clothing and carpeting.

However, it doesn't always work.

"When you look in the literature there's more and more reports of resistance among head lice," Dr. Gehris said.

About 10 patients a month with a resistant case come to Pediatric Dermatologist Dr. Robin Gehris. She can prescribe a stronger prescription medicine.

"Some of them unfortunately are flammable. They have extreme odors, so it's not something pleasant to try first line," Dr. Gehris said.

But she cautions, not every case is truly resistant.

Parents, favoring natural remedies, may try mayonnaise, olive oil, vinegar, or heavy moisturizers to suffocate or dislodge the lice.

"We tell them they can try it, they can use it, because sometimes it does work," Dr. Gehris said.

If the parasites remain, that is not really resistance, and a more appropriate treatment would be in order.

"Many of the over-the-counter products are very effective at treating lice on the very first pass," Dr. Gehris said.

 

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