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Super Lice: How to Protect Your Family

If you've read about "super lice" recently—don't panic! Though the term has hit numerous headlines in the past few weeks, news on the med-resistant bugs first broke last summer thanks to Kyong Sup Yoon, PhD, assistant professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Even so, you'll want to brush up on how to prevent an infestation in your home and learn how to get rid of the pesky insects.

For the (thankfully) uninitiated, lice are bugs often found in human hair that feed on blood and can lead to itchiness and irritation. They don't spread disease, but they can stress everyone out. "Super lice" refers to a mutation in these parasites that makes them resistant to common OTC treatments, particularly those containing the family of insecticides called pyrethrins.

Yoon has tested more samples for the hard-to-fight bugs since last August, and while it may sound unpleasant—super lice have now reached 48 states—treatment is available. "Local doctors are well aware of resistance status and can prescribe new medications," he says. Prescription products include Sklice and Natroba, among others.

So what should you do if you find a nit? See your pediatrician as soon as possible, says Susan Catchings, a family nurse practitioner in Cary, NC. (That's especially important if super lice have been confirmed in your area.) Docs can provide prescription treatments, several of which work after just one application. If a school nurse confirms your kid has lice, the super bugs haven't reached your area, or you can't get to a doctor, try an OTC lotion that contains either 1% permethrin or pyrethrins combined with piperonyl butoxide. (Nix, Rid and Pronto Plus all fit the bill.) You may have to use the cream twice to eliminate all eggs—just follow directions carefully. And if that doesn't work, make an appointment with your PCP stat.

Also, encourage your children not to share hats or clothes with classmates to avoid spreading these parasites. To take care of insects at home, wash all bedding and worn clothes in hot water and vacuum rugs and couches.