Ordinary head lice, the kind children often bring home from school, may be turning into "super lice," developing immunity to over-the-counter treatments that are parents' chief weapon against them.
The California Department of Health Services said in a 1996 report that there is "circumstantial evidence" of increased head lice resistance. This could explain why some public health officials are seeing a dramatic rise in outbreaks.
"We've been getting reports from school nurses from all over the count ry," said Terri Meinking, a University of Miami researcher who co-wrote a 1986 report on head lice treatment. "When they say standard treatment doesn't work the way it used to, we have to take that seriously." While there have been no scientific studies in the United States indicating a new, tougher breed of louse, some Israeli researchers say their tests have proved that head lice are overpowering over-the-counter treatments. "I'd say we have a 20 to 30 percent increase in the number of calls in the last year," said Dr. Vicki Kramer of the state Department of Health Services. "If the lice are harder to get rid of, people are carrying them for longer periods of time. And that increases the chance they will infest someone else." Neither school districts nor federal and local health officials keep statistics on head lice, regarded by medical officials as a nuisance rather than a disease. …