Latest study finds ‘mutant’ lice more hype than headache

The start of the new school year might bring about more than the excitement of new classes, meeting new friends and building new relations.

A new study reports that lice populations in over 25 states of the U.S. are now super-resistant to commonly used treatments, usually available without prescription and recommended by schools and doctors alike.

The finding was presented at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society taking place in Boston on August 18th.

The extensive study was conducted by Ph.D. Kyong Yoon of the Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. Overall, Mr. Yoon and his team collected lice population samples from over 30 states. A total of 109 lice populations were subjected to thorough analysis.

The research team found that 104 out of 109 lice populations have developed resistance to over-the-counter substances. These have mutated genetically to resist the substances commonly used for years to fight the pesky insects.

Particularly, these substances are pyrethroids, part of insecticides typically used in households and outside to control lice, mosquitoes or other pests populations.

According to Mr. Yoon, you and your children might be in for a surprise if lice emerge anywhere in your environment and you notice they cannot be stopped. The genetic mutations have been developed over years.

During the 1990s, the first reports came from Israel. In early 2000s, Kyong Yoon followed up on his mentor’s advice to take a closer look at the re-emergence of lice populations across the U.S.

Capturing extensive lice populations, Yoon tested them for three genetic mutations coined ‘kdr’. This is short from ‘knock-down-resistance’ and it implies that the pests develop a nervous system that is not sensitive to pyrethroids.

All three genetic mutations were found in lice populations collected from 25 states. These include California, Texas, Maine and Florida. Lice population samples collected from Oregon, New Mexico, New Jersey or New York showed less genetic mutations, which makes them less resistant to the use of over-the-counter treatments.

The least resistant population was found to be the one collected from Michigan. There is not much one can do about it. Trying new substances that do away with lice is one option. Yet, with the increased use of the said substance, comes the reverse: increased resistance of the lice population.

Luckily, these pests do not carry disease. Their bites cause itching and a lot of scratching and sometimes they’re the cause for social stigma, yet they pose no threat to health

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