It is time for school to start up again, and normally that is great news for parents except for one thing: Head lice. Head lice are my nightmare. Little disgusting bugs crawling around on your head? I could cry just thinking about it. And it’s even worse now than when we were kids, because the lice are evolving, and now there’s a breed of drug-resistant super head lice that do not care what kinds of fancy shampoos you use, they are not going anywhere.
I’m pretty entomophobic, so I am not looking forward to dealing with any kind of insects at all. (If my daughter catches ladybugs in a jar, I am going to need a slushie of Xanax and prosecco.) And these new lice are apparently so tough that the normal old bottles of lice-killing shampoo we used to use are much less effective.
According to TODAY, “Pyrethroids, which are synthetic versions of a chemical found in chrysanthemums, lock onto receptors in insect nervous systems, paralyzing the creepy crawlies and eventually killing them. But … lice have evolved in such a way that the chemicals no longer fit neatly into the receptors, thereby squashing the chemical’s bug-killing ability.”
Scientists have found the superlice at work in at least 25 states in the U.S. That’s half of them, and probably includes yours. Scientists are still analyzing lice populations in other states, and the news probably isn’t good, but if a realtor put out a list of places to live that did not have bedbugs or head lice, I would move there. That might be Antarctica, but that’s OK. Penguins are cute. Bugs are disgusting.
The idea of any lice at all, let alone superlice, is horrifying. I’m going to be experiencing phantom itches for the rest of the week, and I can’t stop scratching my head. For the first time in my life I am actually considering homeschooling. My kid can’t bring lice home if I never let her out of the house, right?
As much as I hate head lice and want them to cease existing, it’s important to note that head lice are nothing to be ashamed of. Parents hate head lice and we can tend to look around for someone to blame, but head lice are not caused by dirtiness or lack of sanitation. Kids just get their heads on things, and then bugs walk between them. My school spent weeks teaching us all about head lice and not sharing hats or hair brushes and all kinds of lice-prevention techniques. I remember having a whole lice-prevention workbook. But still, lice showed up somehow. I was very careful, but I think I might have gotten them. My mother said I did not have lice, but she gave me and my sister lice treatments anyway, “just in case.”
In retrospect, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. No one gives lice treatments “just in case.” I now consider it more likely that I did have lice and my mother lied to me because I was as afraid of bugs then as I am now, and if I thought there were bugs in my hair she would have had to scrape me off the ceiling, and probably wouldn’t have been able to do it before I shaved my own 8-year-old head with a Lady Bic. (I’m very afraid of bugs.)
Apparently shaving a child’s head is actually an effective way to prevent lice. It sounds extreme, but I can’t say I’m not considering it. A shaved head is still better than having bugs crawling on you.
Pediatric dermatologist Robin Gehris told TODAY that the shampoos could still be effective, but you might need a higher dose and to make sure to use it as directed. Unfortunately, in many cases that means leaving the lice-killing shampoo on your child’s head overnight in a shower cap, which most children would be resistant to. But still, it might be better than a shaved head.