Iowa City schools gear up for ‘super lice’


If you have an itchy head, you may want to double-check before chalking it up to dandruff.

The bug epidemic known as “super lice” has made its way into the Iowa City area. Children in the Iowa City School District are definitely at risk to be infected by the mutated bug, which is immune to traditional over-the-counter medications, an entomologist said.

A recent study by Illinois Southern University-Edwardsville reported super lice are now present in 25 states across the country, including Iowa.

In Iowa City, the problem is most significant at Longfellow Elementary, where Principal Chris Pisarik said the school is working to educate parents and prevent an outbreak from happening again.

“Over the course of the school year, we’ve sent out information about head lice and the treatment of head lice home to all families through our school newsletter,” he said. “We’ve worked with building and district-level staff and physical-plant personnel to try identify any additional measures that could be taken to address these concerns.”

Since the breakout, all Iowa City area schools are advising students not to come into close contact with each other’s hair or share hats, combs, brushes, scarves, or anything similar, because unlike most insects, lice cannot hop or fly, only crawl and spread mainly through human hair.

Adult head lice tend to be 2 or 3 millimeters in length. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, dogs, cats, and other household pets cannot be infected with lice.

Iowa State University entomology Professor Donald Lewis said head lice congregate in the hair of humans and nourish themselves by feasting on small drops of blood from the scalp.

After the male and female lice breed, he said, the female lays the eggs, or nits, and then glues them where the hair meets the scalp.

Lewis said lice do not carry disease and the only health implications from the bug would be secondary infections from itching and possibly reopening a wound.

“Head lice are irritating and emotionally draining,” he said. “But they’re not a physical health threat. Head lice have been around people for about as long as people have been around.”

Lewis also said the only thing making this next generation of lice, “super” is that the pest population has grown resistant to traditional over-the-counter treatments.

Lice Clinics of America in Bettendorf uses a unique treatment to circumvent the lice’s resistance, owner Janet Brown said.

“We use an Food and Drug Administration cleared medical device called AirAlle,” she said. “The AirAlle uses heated air to dehydrate and kill the lice and nits. The treatments are 99.2 percent effective on the eggs and about 88 percent effective on the adult lice, which are very efficient numbers.”

She said Lice Clinics is the only place in Iowa to use the AirAlle treatment for lice.

As the “super lice” epidemic continues, Iowa City’s schools are trying to make sure children stay as safe as possible.

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