Mutant lice are everywhere — or so it seems. These infamous creatures, lice that resist treatment, have recently captured the national spotlight. While it’s true that a few cases of mutant lice have been reported in Tennessee, Dr. Jeannine Hogg, a pediatric hospitalist at Baptist Memorial Hospital, says parents have nothing to fear.
“Whether it’s lice or bacteria that cause other infections, if you overuse a treatment, pests can develop a resistance," Hogg says. "It’s not some kind of weird thing that never happens.”
This type of mutation is seen every day in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The difference is that unlike bacteria, mutated lice do not cause disease. Hogg says it’s simply a natural, biological process that makes these lice a bit more difficult to kill.
While mutated lice are resistant to typical over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as RID, Hogg says prescription treatments are available that easily treat infestations. However, parents should first use regular insecticides, since these medications are significantly less expensive than prescription options. If, after following all package directions, lice are still present, follow Hogg’s advice and see your healthcare provider for a prescription.
The main point Hogg wants parents to remember is that mutated lice do not affect individuals any differently than non-mutated lice. Lice, regardless of type, do not carry disease — they are merely irritating bugs that need to be dealt with swiftly, and may require different treatments.
While the standard warning of not sharing hats or brushes still applies, Hogg points out a new area of concern believed to be partially responsible for the increase in infestations: Selfies. “You don’t think about it, but your heads are touching.”
So take Hogg’s final word of advice: Educate yourself and your children on ways to avoid lice from occurring in the first place. No sharing of sports helmets, hats, hair brushes, or scarves. If you notice lice, begin treating immediately.