Experts warning of significant increase in ‘super lice’

Just when you thought these critters were hard to get rid of, experts are warning parents about a resurgence of super lice. Afua Baah has the details rapid return of the tiny bugs.

By Afua Baah

As if head lice weren’t hard to eliminate, experts are warning parents about a resurgence of super lice.

“A huge dip after COVID, it took a while to come back, but it’s back fast and furious,” says Shawnda Walker, founder of North York head lice removal company Nitwits.

“We’re seeing on average about 30 cases a day …. we really don’t know what to attribute it to now. There have been some changes in the school policies, allowing kids to stay with lice. More travel, there are countries that live with lice, we’re not really sure what it is.”

Head lice are little insects that live on the scalp. They lay their eggs and once they hatch, they multiply. There are three stages to the life of head lice: the egg (nit), the nymph and the adult. The adult lays the eggs and can live on a person’s head for several days.

“Once the female is impregnated, she is pregnant her entire life,” said Walker.

The wingless insects spread easily, moving around where people are in close contact. Once someone has had lice, the insect’s pheromones stay on a person for 90 days. Even though they are commonly found among school-aged children, there is a spike in cases in a particular age range.

“We’re seeing a huge, significant increase in our older kids, that 12 to 18-year-old average right now are the ones that just have a lot of lice,” said Walker.

Super lice are said to have been around for a few years now and are becoming more resistant to the over-the-counter products used to treat them. However experts say the age-old methods of removing the critters remain the same.

“We use a non-toxic enzyme that goes in the hair, we use a professional lice comb that combs out about 90 per cent, and then we literally go strand by strand to pick out what’s left. The key is the combing,” said Walker.

Experts add that being itchy doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has lice, as symptoms vary from person to person.

“Lice is not dirty. You have hair, you have blood, you can catch lice. We say it here, if you can catch a common cold, you can catch lice. So be open and communicative about it,” said Walker. “They don’t like the smell of mint, so we encourage all of our families to use mint shampoos, mint sprays, anything mint.”

The Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board both tell CityNews that they have not seen cases of super lice yet. Toronto Public Health tells CityNews that it encourages a focus on raising awareness to prevent lice infestations through measures such as:

  • Discouraging the sharing of personal articles and clothing (hats, scarves, brushes, combs, helmets, headphones, etc.)
  • Keeping hats and scarves in coat sleeves or pockets
  • Individual well-spaced coat hooks or lockers
  • Young children having permanently assigned resting mats, towels or pillows
  • Vacuuming carpets or mats regularly
  • Advising parents/caregivers to check their child’s head for head lice on a weekly basis

You can find more general info and tips on head lice from Toronto Public Health.

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