To parents recoiling from the discovery of lice on their child's scalp, the latest word from the medical front offers little comfort.
Ordinary head lice may be turning into "super lice," developing immunity to over-the-counter treatments that are parents' chief weapon.
The California Department of Health Services warned 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 sharp rise in lice outbreaks.
"I'd say we have a 20 [percent] to 30 percent increase in the number of calls in the last year," said Dr. Vicki Kramer of the Department of Health Services, who works with public schools and health departments on head lice.
"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.
Scientific studies on the possibility of immunity have not been completed in the United States, and some health officials blame increased infestations on improper use of remedies.
A group of Israeli researchers, however, says their tests have proved that head lice, which medical historians trace back 9,000 years, are overpowering over-the-counter treatments.
Some parents do not need to be convinced. "We tried everything we were supposed to do and we still could not get rid of them," said Robin Fried, of Agoura Hills, Calif., whose 6-year-old-daughter was sent home from school with head lice in November.
"We tried the shampoos the school nurse told us we could find in the drugstore. We would think we got rid of all the eggs, but then we would take her back to school and they would examine her and say there were more.
"I was hysterical. I thought we would never get back in," said Fried, whose daughter missed five days of school.
Pub Date: 4/12/97