Mutant Lice on Rampage in Canada

By Paul, Alexandra | Winnipeg Free Press, March 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

Mutant Lice on Rampage in Canada


Paul, Alexandra, Winnipeg Free Press


Traditional treatments ineffective

Like the plot of a bad sci-fi movie, a new generation of mutant lice has infested scalps across the country -- including here in Manitoba. And what's worse is these Franken-lice are resistant to traditional delousing treatments.

Scientists say the arsenal of cheap, safe insecticides that used to wash away the pesky bugs is failing us.

We need new chemicals to kill these mutated pests, they warn.

In Winnipeg, parents aren't waiting for science. They're resorting to the only surefire way to remove lice from hair: picking out the eggs, called nits, speck by speck, like they did centuries ago.

One former stay-at-home mom has a business called Slice of Lice that caters the service. It's a full-time job.

A study by medical experts at the University of Massachusetts says a new generation of mutant lice that are immune to drug-store insecticide shampoos is literally crawling through Canadian scalps.

Super-lice make up 97.1 per cent of Canadian lice infestations, it concluded in this month's Journal of Medical Entomology.

Once miracle killers, delousing preparations now only work on 2.9 per cent of Canadian head lice cases, said the study's author, J. Marshall Clark.

It's worse in the United States, where more than 99 per cent of lice are mutant.

The study author said it appears the nasty beasties have turned our weapon against us.

Insecticide shampoos breed resistance now, instead of killing off the bugs.

"You will kill some lice, leaving the more resistant lice to breed and create more resistant lice," the Massachusetts scientist told the National Post.

It turns out super-lice have a "TI" mutation that makes them resistant to the pyrethrins and pyrethroids that are the active ingredients in most anti-lice shampoos. And using the shampoos makes the infestation worse for the majority of cases.

Researchers based their findings on lice samples collected from 16 sites in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia using test subjects ranging in age from four to 64.

There were no samples from Manitoba, but that hardly matters anymore.

It turns out the mutant lice are very likely here.

Sarah Phillips in Southdale is growing a thriving business delousing kids who have the mutant lice.

"Parents are ecstatic I'm around, and everyone I've treated is hugging me as I walk out the door," said Phillips, who runs the Slice of Lice service.

"I literally pick each strand of hair, strand by strand and I pick out those nits, by hand. …

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