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Are Over-the-Counter Treatments for Head Lice Effective?

Published on September 18, 2019

Are Over-the-Counter Treatments for Head Lice Effective?

Halloween is almost here but you won’t find your worst fears come to life this year on the streets—there’s a new breed of head lice in town which has developed a resistant genetic mutation to over-the-counter treatments!

These super lice are taking over our scalps and most of us aren’t aware that over-the-counter treatments are no longer working on them.

Let’s unravel the ineffectiveness of these treatments and take a look at other ways to get rid of head lice.

Testing over-the-counter treatments

Scientists have been analyzing the effectiveness of over-the-counter treatments on various samples of head lice for the past thirty years, and things were looking good…until very recently.

Researchers from John Hopkins Medicine in Maryland conducted clinical studies using various samples of lice obtained from all over the United States. The results reported that over-the-counter treatments are only 25 percent effective when it comes to getting rid of head lice. That’s not a good enough number when you’re really looking for 100% results!

How did this happen?

Turns out, bacteria aren’t the only organisms that can develop resistance to chemicals through genetic changes over time. Due to the overuse of chemical insecticides that contain permethrin and pyrethrin, lice have developed a resistant mutation that allows them to function amidst these chemicals.

Initially, these chemical compounds were used to sting the lice and kill them. However, the mutation reduces sensitivity in the nervous system of the lice and helps them stay alive.

The mutation is termed as the knockdown resistance mutation. Their frequency has reached about 99.6 percent in the United States, which is why 48 out of the 50 states in America have contracted this new breed of resistant head lice—called the super lice.

How do over-the-counter treatments affect super lice?

resistant head lice

Permethrin and pyrethrin are frequently used in over-the-counter treatments because of their ability to paralyze and kill lice.

However, the findings of the research conclude that these treatments merely suppress the metabolic abilities of lice, which cause them to become unconscious momentarily—giving the impression that they’ve been killed off. The lice then awaken due to a mechanism that has been termed as the ‘resurrection effect’ by several scientists.

What now?

Research has indicated that newer agents such as malathion, Spinosad and ivermectin are being considered for lice treatment, but there’s no guarantee that their overuse won’t lead to the development of another resistant mutation in lice.

As such, the most effective treatment is the use of a drying agent to dehydrate lice and pick them out manually after a thorough inspection.

Other than that, to get rid of lice from household items, you can seal them in an airtight plastic bag to suffocate the lice. The items can then be washed to remove any traces of these pesky creatures.

If you’re looking for a professional head lice removal service near you, get in touch with Lice Troopers today! We offer the best in-clinic lice removal treatments as well as in-house inspection and cleaning services to help you get rid of lice once and for all. Contact us today at 800-403-5423!

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