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Head Lice Treatments Can Be Toxic

Parents Should Consult Doctor Before Treating Child's Lice

Sep 10, 2003 |

Lice are a common problem in schools, but parents shouldn't trust just any head lice treatment.

On Your Side Troubleshooter Chris Caswell reported that some of the products could be toxic.

Dr. Robert Schachter runs a service that helps parents get rid of tough head lice cases.

"Usually, when a parent calls us, (he or she is) absolutely desperate," Schachter said.

For parents desperate to get rid of lice on their own, there are products at the drugstore. Some can be gotten over the counter and others require a prescription.

But Consumer Reports cautioned that two prescription treatments could be dangerous.

One, Lindane, has been on the market for more than 40 years.

"The trouble with Lindane is it's a neurotoxic pesticide," said Nancy Metcalf, of Consumer Reports.

Lice have become resistant to Lindane, making it an increasingly ineffective lice killer.

"It's dangerous and it doesn't work very well," Metcalf said. "There's no reason ever to use this."

A second prescription, Ovide, uses a different pesticide called Malathion. It's effective, but Consumer Reports said it can be harmful if absorbed through the skin.

The instructions say to leave the medicated shampoo on for eight to 12 hours, even though tests show Ovide kills lice in 20 minutes.

"The question is how much is absorbed through the skin and the answer is, we don't know," Metcalf said. "But we do know. But we do know that the longer it stays on a child's head, the more is absorbed."

Consumer Reports said Ric and Nix are far safer. These over-the-counter medications use relatively safe insecticide. It's essential to use a fine-tooth comb on a child's hair to remove the lice and their eggs.

Lice can even become resistant to pesticides over time.

If over-the-counter medications aren't working, experts said parents should see their doctor for advice on the best treatment.

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