Medication-Resistant Head Lice

Medication-Resistant Head LiceMedication-Resistant Head Lice Found in California

Head lice, long dreaded by parents of young children, seem to be getting tougher to eliminate. A new study suggests that the lice population in at least 25 states, including California, is now resistant to the over-the-counter permethrin treatments parents have been using for years to kill infestations.

According to the recent HealthDay article, six million to 12 million American children get head lice each year. They are transmitted by direct physical contact and affect children from all social and economic backgrounds. While the itching can be uncomfortable (and the idea of bugs crawling on you kind of gross), head lice do not transmit disease, and as such, are not life-threatening.

Even so, when a child comes home with head lice, it means several days of intense grooming and cleaning to stop the spread and the infestation, often using permethrin treatments mentioned in the study.

The article goes on to say:

“It’s a very classic resistance story,” said study lead author Kyong Yoon, an assistant professor in the biological sciences and environmental sciences program at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.

Medication-Resistant Head Lice
In 25 states, lice have genetic alterations that render them immune to over-the-counter permethrin treatments.
photo credit: Amazon
“Permethrin products were introduced to U.S. consumers in the early ’90s,” Yoon said. “But the first registered problem was reported from Israel in 1995, probably because they had it in use even earlier. Then in 2000 we found genetic mutations causing resistance in head lice here.”

…”We have found 100 percent resistance among 104 lice populations out of 109 we tested,” Yoon said. “It’s really alarming.”

In 25 states — including Arizona, California, the Carolinas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia — lice have what Yoon calls “knock-down resistant mutations” — a triple whammy of genetic alterations that render them immune to over-the-counter permethrin treatments.

Lice in four states — New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Oregon — have developed partial resistance, the researchers found.

Michigan’s lice have no resistance as yet. Why remains unclear.

While the prospect of permethrin-resistant lice may cause anxiety among some parents, there are alternative treatments still available:

The good news is that prescription medications that don’t contain permethrin remain effective against lice. These contain powerful agents such as benzyl alcohol, ivermectin, malathion and spinosad. Lindane shampoo is another alternative for difficult-to-treat cases.

“Prescription drugs will be pricier. But if you try and save time and money and treat it on your own it will probably get worse rather than better,” Yoon said.

If you have questions about your options for treating lice or bed bugs, please visit any Owens Healthcare Location and ask to speak with one of our helpful pharmacists.