Drug-resistant lice not yet a concern in Janesville

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Nick Crow
August 25, 2015

JANESVILLE — Janesville School District officials say they aren't yet concerned about reports of lice resistant to common treatments in 25 states, including Wisconsin.

“I think the district took a lot of time in developing its head lice policy and best practices based on what is recommended by the state,” said Chris Wesling, student services coordinator for the district. “We think we have good policies and procedures and we will stick to those procedures.”

According to the non-profit scientific organization American Chemical Society, lice populations in 25 states have developed resistance to over-the-counter treatments recommended by doctors and schools.

“We are the first group to collect lice samples from a large number of populations across the U.S.,” said Kyong Yoon, a medical doctor at Southern Illinois University, in the report. “What we found was that 104 out of the 109 lice populations we tested had high levels of gene mutations, which have been linked to resistance to pyrethroids.”

Pyrethroids are a family of insecticides used to control mosquitoes and other insects. It includes permethrin, the active ingredient in some of the most common lice treatments sold at drug stores, according to the American Chemical Society report.

In the report, Yoon said the momentum toward widespread pyrethroid-resistant lice has been building for years. The solution is to control lice by using different chemicals, some of which are available only by prescription, he said.

“It's really a nuisance, but it isn't a danger,” Wesling said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adult head lice are 2 to 3 millimeters long. Head lice infest the head and neck and attach their eggs to the bases of the hair shafts. Lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly. Head lice infestation is spread most commonly by close person-to-person contact. Dogs, cats, and other pets do not play a role in the transmission of human lice. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are available for treatment of head lice infestations, according to the CDC.

In Janesville, students found to have live lice are sent home that day. Parents are then required to treat the students and school nurses recheck them the next day. Lice eggs, or knits, don't force a student from school, Wesling said.

“You get them by sharing hats or headphones or coming in contact hair to hair,” Wesling said.

Younger students are more prone to getting lice because they are closer to each other and more likely to share things such as hats or hairbrushes, she said.

“Staff is advised to be suspicious of kids who repeatedly scratch their head,” Wesling said. “But it may be dandruff or something else. There are many reasons for a kid to scratch their head.”

Wesling said there haven't been any reports of lice that are resistant to treatment in Janesville. Schools don't inspect each student for lice. They are inspected only if the student is suspected of having lice, she said.

The district is monitoring the schools for changes but won't change its procedures, she said.

“I called one of the nurses, and they haven't really noticed it getting worse," Wesling said.

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