What is Super Lice?
Super lice are a strain of head lice that have become resistant to permethrin and/or pyrethrin—the medication in conventional, over-the-counter lice treatments. Super lice look and behave like normal head lice in every other way, and can only be identified by their resistance to common treatments.
Super lice are present in all 48 contiguous United States. In fact, up to one quarter of head lice in the U.S. may be super lice—resistant to at least one common treatment. And up to 98% of head lice in the continental U.S. are resistant to pyrethrin, specifically.
How to Get Rid of Super Lice
Your child got head lice, but the over-the-counter creams and shampoos didn’t live up to their promises. Lice aren’t dangerous, but it can be maddening when they just won’t go away—and your child has been scratching their scalp for weeks.
Maybe you’re just not sure what to do next. Maybe your pediatrician mentioned the possibility of, “super lice,” and now you’re really concerned.
Don’t worry. Super lice are real, but they’re not scary. Armed with a little extra knowledge, you can identify super lice and effectively treat and prevent them.
Super Lice Treatment
There are several explanations for why conventional treatments might not be getting rid of lice that have infested your family. Before treating your child for super lice, consider:
- Improper treatment administration — Many times, OTC lice treatments don’t work because caregivers don’t follow the directions exactly—using less product than required, or skipping follow-up treatments.
- Reinfestation — If your child was free of head lice symptoms for a week or more after treatment, but seems to have head lice again, they may have been reinfested. This happens when lice is spread to another family member or within a close group of friends.
- Misdiagnosis — Other debris on or near the scalp is often mistaken for lice, especially after a recent infestation. Dandruff, scabs, or clothing lint are all frequently mistaken for head lice.
If none of these is a possibility, you are probably dealing with super lice. There are a few treatment options available:
- Novokid — The Novokid system is a natural, scientifically proven lice treatment that does not use permethrin or pyrethrin, which means super lice are not resistant to it.
- Prescription lice medications — Your pediatrician can write a prescription for a stronger lice treatment medication that should work on resistant types of lice.
- Hot air treatment — Some professional lice-removal salons offer a service that uses hot air to desiccate the insects and nits. Many salons follow the air with a thick serum and a thorough nit combing. The procedure takes anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.
How Do They Spread?
As you’re weighing treatment options and acquiring supplies (or waiting for your appointment time), you’ll also want to make sure that the lice don’t spread to other children or family members.
Remember that super lice are just like normal head lice in every other way, except for their resistance to common medications. That means they spread (and don’t spread) just like normal head lice.
- Lice most commonly spread by head-to-head or hair-to-hair contact. This happens when individuals hug, gather around a book or toy, pack into a car, get close together for a group selfie, etc.
- Lice can spread by sharing personal items like hats and combs, but, as they don’t survive long off of a host, it is not common.
- Head lice only infest humans. That means your pets are not the cause of head lice in your home and that they are not at risk of getting infected.
- Head lice do not jump or fly.
- Anyone with hair can get lice. Head lice are most common on Caucasian children, but they can infest BIPOC people of all ages and Caucasian adults.
Super lice are just tough head lice, which means they spread the same way. Making sure you can separate facts and myths regarding how lice spread will help you prevent them from spreading.
How to Prevent Super Lice
Preventing head lice entirely is almost impossible. Parents and caregivers should talk to their families about lice and how to exercise some appropriate caution. But trying to tell preteens not to take group selfies, or younger children to never gather around a book or toy, is probably fighting a losing battle.
What’s more manageable is preventing lice, or super lice, from reinfesting a loved one after treatment and preventing lice from spreading through your home.
- Discourage head-to-head contact — Lice nits hatch about one week after they are cemented to a hair follicle. This is why most OTC lice treatments require a second application after about one week. Even “one application” treatment options are only proven effective after a week—when nits are proven dead and do not hatch. In the meantime, keep the infested hair away from other hair.
- Run items through the dryer — Any clothing, plush toys, hats, pillows, etc. that may have come in contact with the infested hair should be put in the dryer for at least 30 minutes.
- Wash bedding — All of the child’s bedding should get washed in hot water, if possible, and dried for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Soak hard items — Brushes, combs, and anything else that may have come in contact with infected hair, but that cannot go in the dryer, should be soaked in hot water for 10 minutes.
- Seal remaining items — Any other possibly infected items that cannot go in the dryer or in hot water, should be vacuum-sealed or tightly wrapped in a plastic garbage bag for 48 hours.
Super Lice FAQ
“But what about … ?” There are a few other questions about super lice that we hear a lot.
How long do they live?
The lice life cycle is the same for normal head lice and super lice. Nits hatch after seven to 10 days, and the total lifespan of a single lice is about 30 days, as long as it is on a host. (Lice can only live for one or two days off a host.)
Can they fly?
No. Like regular head lice, super lice do not have wings and cannot fly. They cannot jump either.
How do you get rid of super lice naturally?
Natural treatments for super lice include the Novokid all-natural lice treatment and professional hot air treatments.
What do they look like?
Super lice look just like normal head lice. Adult lice are off-white or tan in color and about the size of a sesame seed. Like all insects, they have a larger abdomen and six small legs.
Lice nymphs look like adult lice, but are even smaller. Lice nits are very small but are still visible to the naked eye. They are white or off-white, oval-shaped, and attached to the base of a hair follicle. They are easily mistaken for dandruff or small scabs, but dandruff will come off easily if scratched at. Lice nits are firmly cemented to the hair.
The term “super lice” is enough to strike fear into most parents, but the only thing “super” or different about these insects is their resistance to traditional head lice medications. They are not otherwise any different than normal head lice, so the only real problem is finding an effective treatment.
Fortunately, most families have options available. You can get a prescription from your primary care provider, find a salon that offers hot air lice treatments, or get a Novokid all-in-one kit to take care of the problem from home.
Jennifer Andreoli is a New York Times bestselling author. She was born and raised in the Bronx and was a bookseller before shifting to children’s publishing and copywriting. She’s worked at a literary development company and a creative writing website for teens and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. She loves long walks on the beach and traveling to exotic locales and lives in Los Angeles. When she isn’t reading or writing great stories, she’s probably singing or watching racy shows on Netflix.