Back-to-School Warning: Head Lice Now Resistant to Treatment in 25 States
As a new school year starts, the American Chemical Society had some lousy news. Researchers found that lice populations in at least 25 states have developed resistance to over-the-counter treatments still widely recommended by doctors and schools. The researchers presented their findings yesterday at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.
— Daily Mirror (@DailyMirror) August 19, 2015
“We are the first group to collect lice samples from a large number of populations across the U.S.,” says Kyong Yoon, Ph.D at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. “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 that are commonly used to treat head lice. One of those, permethrin, is the active ingredient in many anti-lice treatments. Yoon became one of the first to highlight the problem in the U.S. back in 2000, but the first report on this development came from Israel in the late 1990s. Yoon has been testing lice for a trio of genetic mutations known collectively as kdr, which stands for “knock-down resistance.”
In Yoon's most recent report, he collected population samples of lice from 30 states. Twenty-five of those states had all three genetic mutations—meaning they are the most resistant to pyrethroids. In some samples, including ones from California, Florida, Maine and Minnesota, every insect in the sample had resistance genes. “It’s almost saturated with [these genes], which means that people using permethrin and pyrethrin based products will probably have a very hard time controlling the lice,” says Yoon.
Samples taken from four states—New York, New Jersey, New Mexico and Oregon—had one, two or three mutations. The only state with a population of lice still largely susceptible to the insecticide was Michigan. Yoon says, why lice haven't developed a resistance in Michigan is still under investigation. His research is ongoing and he plans to collect samples from every state.
— WPXI (@WPXI) August 19, 2015
Head lice is far more common than many may think. Six million to 12 million U.S. children are infested with head lice every year, "with parents spending about $350 million dollars annually on permethrin-laced over-the-counter and prescription treatments," Yoon said. And contrary to the stereotype, lice infestations occur in rich neighborhoods as well as poor ones. “It’s a really, really serious problem right now in the U.S.,” Yoon told TIME. Though head lice aren't known to carry any diseases, they can be very irritating and very difficult to get rid of.
It's not just head lice, though. Pesticide-resistance is a major problem in agriculture as well. So what is to be done? How can we combat these pesticide-resistant bugs?
“If you use a chemical over and over, these little creatures will eventually develop resistance,” Yoon says. “So we have to think before we use a treatment."
If pyrethroid-based treatments don't work, he suggests using a prescription drug, such as ivermectin or spinosad. Still, we have to be careful not to swap one chemical out with another, warns Richard Pollack, a public health entomologist at Harvard University, because lice will just develop a resistance to these other chemicals over time.
"The good news is head lice don’t carry disease," says Yoon. "They’re more a nuisance than anything else.”
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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