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New concerns over head lice treatment

woman is numb one year later


From PAN-UK News Release: 01/11/2001

A year after school governor Marjorie Graham, 64, used an insecticide treatment for head lice, she is left with a numb torso and arms – mystery symptoms her doctors can’t explain. She is urging parents to use non-chemical methods of head lice control on children.

Dr Sarah Myhill, a GP who specializes in organophosphate sheep-dip poisoning, says Mrs. Graham’s symptoms could be due to the product. ‘They are typical of a peripheral neuropathy [disorder of the nervous system] affecting both the sensory and motor nerves’, she says. ‘These are exactly the sort of symptoms I would expect to see from an acute chemical poisoning case.’

‘I caught head lice around Christmas last year’, says Mrs. Graham. ‘I bought a Health Authority-recommended head lice product and followed the packet instructions to the letter.’

Marjorie Graham had a cold when she used the insecticide. Four days later she developed numbness from her groin to her bust, muscle weakness, tingling down her arms, and aching in her chest.

‘When I asked my doctors if my symptoms could have been caused by my using the insecticide they were dubious’, says Mrs. Graham, who has had a battery of inconclusive medical tests since. ‘They wouldn’t even notify the medical authorities of a possible reaction until I insisted. If it happens to anyone else at least there will be a record now.’

Alison Craig of Pesticide Action Network UK says ‘We are very concerned that cases such as Mrs. Graham’s are not being either diagnosed or recorded by the medical authorities.


  1. The insecticide contains the organophosphate malathion. Organophosphates work by damaging the nervous systems of insects, and can also affect the nervous system of humans.
  2. PAN-UK wants a ban on the use of chemical head lice insecticides on children. The most recent advice to family doctors was the leaflet issued by the Doctor Patient Partnership in September 2000. It warns against insecticides for people with asthma, dermatitis, pregnant women and babies under 6 months old. But it gives no details of organophosphate poisoning symptoms. PAN-UK says they won’t then be diagnosed by doctors.
  3. A study in 1997 by the Health & Safety Executive and Dr Vyvyan Howard of Liverpool University found that head lice insecticides used on children contain enough organophosphate to put them five times over government safety limits, and that repeated use may damage the nervous system.
  4. Following the publication of the government’s Committee on Toxicity report on organophosphates in December 1999, further government-funded research on the effects of organophosphates on children and adults is being commissioned.


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