Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibility

'Super lice' in Wisconsin not responding to typical treatments


MADISON, Wis. - "Super lice" are in Wisconsin, and a new report says they're increasingly not responding to over-the-counter drugs.

The report by the University of Pittsburgh, that was published in the September/October issue of Pediatric Dermatology, looked at the effectiveness of the common over-the-counter treatment for lice and found it is only 25 percent effective in the treatment of lice. A study last year found drug-resistant lice in 25 states, including Wisconsin.

That's driving some parents to use alternatives, like "The Bright Side" in Sun Prairie. Peggy Ziegler's service uses an FDA-cleared heat device to kill lice and nits on the heads of anyone age four and up.

Grace Wesphal came from her home near Green Bay after finding lice on her head last week.

"One [bug] just fell on my desk and I was like 'What is this thing?'" Westphal said.

Her mother said the family tried multiple options to treat the lice without success.

"We even tried a product that said it was going to help with super lice and it didn't," Grace's mother, Martha Winkler, said. "It's a worrisome creepy thing to have in your home and try to get ahead of it and we just keep falling behind."

Those super lice are keeping Ziegler busy. August was her busiest month since starting her business three and a half years ago.

"We've just been swamped," Ziegler said. "To tell you the truth I might as well have a cot down here. It doesn't pay to go home some nights."

She said she thinks the chemical resistance of lice has brought more people to try her heat option.

"I get people in here with chemical burn on the head but the bugs are alive and well," Ziegler said.

The study confirms that, saying that permethrin, while very effective for the treatment of lice years ago, is now only 25 percent effective.

"That comes from chronic repeated overuse and misuse," UW Health dermatologist Dr. Apple Bodemer said. "Which is why diagnosis is so important, that we're not just getting scared and treating our kids for lice because our friend has it or a neighbor has it or somebody in their classroom has it."

Bodemer said there are still effective prescription remedies for lice that may now be increasingly used by doctors, but that could also increase the drug resistance of lice.

Westphal and Winkler said they were glad for an option that didn't involve the chemicals.

"Oh my goodness, if we were to deal with this again I'd be on the phone [asking] when can I get in," Winkler said. "I'm not going to deal with what we have been doing at home."

Ziegler's treatment offers a 30-day guarantee and costs $175.

Bodemer said doctors may still suggest trying those over-the-counter treatments first, but the report says providers should be aware of the resistance issue and offer options to their patients.