Debunking Super Lice and Other Myths
Head lice are easy to kill. You just need the right information.
By Adam Ward Nov. 25, 2015 | 6:00 a.m. EST
For a relatively harmless parasite that can’t survive off its human host very long, the head louse has garnered plenty of unwarranted fear and loathing.
Recent reports of lice in the U.S. carrying pesticide-resistant genes have now elevated this lowly bug to super-villain status.
But ‘Super Lice’? Really?
Yes, the pesticides in popular over-the-counter drugs in the U.S. don’t work very well any more. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other methods of killing these critters.
Before delving into these other methods, however, let’s debunk a few other lice myths:
Myth No. 1: Lice can jump and fly.
Lice crawl. Period. They move from one head to another by grabbing onto a passing hair with one of their six claws. In order for that to happen, two heads have to be close enough for hair to touch. So if you don’t touch heads with with an infested person, the chances of you getting lice are extremely low.
Myth No. 2: Only kids get lice.
Based on treatments at Lice Clinics of America, just half of head-lice infestations happen to school-age kids. The other half happen to parents (usually the moms) and older siblings. Teenagers and college students who spend a lot of time putting their heads together for selfies and other activities are also not immune.
Myth No. 3: Lice spread disease.
They don’t. There are three types of lice that feed off humans, and only the body louse can transmit disease (which can kill you).
Myth No. 4: Lice can infest a house.
Research shows that most head lice, which need to feed on human blood every three to four hours, die within 15 hours off their host. If a louse accidentally comes off a head, it is highly unlikely that it will be able to make it back onto a head before dehydrating and dying.
Myth No. 5: Pesticides can’t kill Super Lice.
So let’s get back to this Super Lice myth. There are lots of pesticides around the world that can kill these lice. Unfortunately, most aren’t widely available in the U.S. or approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Seventy-two percent of OTC lice products sold in the United States contain either permethrin or pyrethrum. These pesticides used to be extremely effective at killing lice. But after decades of overuse, they now are effective less than 45 percent of the time, and that is after multiple treatments.
In the past decade, a number of “all-natural” products have hit the U.S. market to address this problem. Unfortunately, many of these products use essential oils to kill lice. These products should be avoided because the essential oils kill lice using neurotoxic means, and do so without regulation by the FDA for safety and efficacy.
So: What to Use?
Fortunately, there are some new non-toxic products that are relatively effective at killing lice. These products kill lice through physical means rather than neurotoxic means. They kill lice (but not lice eggs) through plugging their spiracles and trachea; or by stripping cuticle lipids on a louse’s waxy shell (which causes dehydration); or by drying them with heated air (which desiccates them).
One of these new products is an FDA-cleared medical device called AirAllé that kills head lice using carefully controlled, heated air. In clinical trials using just a single treatment (and with no nit combing), the device had a combined kill-or-remove rate for lice and eggs of 93.7 percent. In particular, it was 99.2 percent effective on lice eggs, which are the hardest to kill.
On April 27, 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their report on head lice and added AirAllé as an effective treatment method. The AAP report recommends not using OTC products in areas where pesticide resistance is known.
Adam Ward is the chief operating officer of Larada Sciences, a company dedicated to the eradication of head lice that developed the AirAllé machine.