In theory, it should be easy to keep lice out of your kid's hair.
Don't share hats, keep other combs and brushes out of their hair and avoid games that lead to them bumping heads with other kids. Sounds manageable, right?
But according to Faith Haase, a lice technician at Lincoln-based lice treatment clinic Healthy Heads, it's not so simple, and the 205 cases of lice that popped up in Lincoln Public Schools' fall semester last year would beg to differ.
"It's interesting. When you pop up to take a selfie with someone, you put your heads together," she said. "And now kids have phones, too. Kids watch things together and put their heads together there, too."
Even a simple selfie provides a wide-enough window of opportunity for the parasites to jump from head to head.
"Lice are superfast, and when they're in hair, they're especially quick," Haase said. "Their legs have evolved to work in hair. I've parted hair and seen little darts of movement. I like to say they're like Tarzan when they're in hair."
The main treatment for lice used to be pesticides sold over the counter and applied at home. But as the bugs continue to breed, each generation becomes more resistant to those standard methods.
So-called "super lice" are resistant to most pesticides, and parents who use more than the recommended amount are not only using an ineffective method, but also risk potentially poisoning their children.
"At this point, most treatments do absolutely nothing. We've had parents who have been trying this stuff over and over again and nothing happens," Haase said. "In the worst cases, they can cause really bad, dry scalps, and if they're sensitive, then kids can have allergic reactions to these over-the-counter treatments."
With super lice populations increasing and spreading across the country, clinics such as Healthy Heads have begun developing techniques that attack lice differently than just poisoning them with pesticides.
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Healthy Heads uses an oil containing dissolved dimethicone, which is used in most skin care products. It's fine for human skin and goes through human pores easily, but is too large for lice to be able to absorb through the openings on the sides of their exoskeletons.
"Lice digest blood by oxygenating it," Haase said. "When the openings on their bodies get clogged, they can no longer eat and it stuns them long enough that we can remove them and then comb out their eggs."
Even if the name "super lice" sounds concerning, Haase said parents shouldn't be too alarmed.
"Even super lice can be killed, it's just a matter of how we do it, and lice are more of a nuisance than a danger, anyway," she said. "It's not like when you hear about huge mosquitoes that don't respond to bug spray. Lice aren't health risks, they're not going to make anyone sick."
In the meantime, Haase advised parents to inspect their children's scalps for any eggs during the first few weeks of school and to encourage children not to hug their friends so much.
She also said having a handy nit comb can be useful.
"Honestly, having a good nit comb is your best bet, because if you don't comb out the eggs, then you're just going to have the same problem in 10 days," she said. "We use Terminator combs. Its teeth are actually designed spiraled so they can catch eggs."
So while lice have become more resistant to the traditional means of treatment, Haase said she doesn't believe it's become impossible to treat the occasional lice outbreak.
"At this point, most ways to kill lice and deal with their eggs just require a little bit of elbow grease," she said.