Mutant lice? Report says head lice becoming resistant to treatments

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CLEVELAND - As kids head back to school, they could be facing "mutant head lice." A new study found lice in 25 states, including Ohio, are resistant to common, over-the-counter treatments. It’s making the itchy hair condition that affects between 6 and 12 million kids each year an even greater nuisance.

The study found gene mutations in many lice populations make them resistant to insecticides including permethrin, an active ingredient in common drug store treatments like Rid shampoo and Nix rinse. The study was funded by a drug company that owns a lice-fighting chemical and has not yet been evaluated for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Local doctors still recommend starting with common treatments before moving on to stronger, and often, more expensive prescription medications.

“It’s not unusual things become more resistant to medication or different kinds of strategies over time,” University Hospital Pediatrician Doctor Lolita McDavid said, cautioning, “you really should start with the most common things first because we don’t know that the ones your child has are going to be resistant.”

Alternative treatment options include newer, stronger chemicals, but many Northeast Ohioans are turning to another strategy: "nitpickers."

Nick Conroy, owner of Bernadette's Lice Removal Center in Eastlake, said business is booming, and nearly all of his customers have unsuccessfully tried over-the-counter options first. His business uses a chemical-free enzyme treatment solution he developed, and employees comb out lice and eggs.

“In reality, it just comes down to combing out and the eggs coming out of the hair so you don’t have to worry about re-infestation,” Conroy said. “It doesn't matter if they're super lice, or any lice. Once you get them out of the head, they're off your head and in the garbage can.”