Consumer Reports warns against some lice treatments
by: 9NEWS Consumer Reporter Mark Koebrich
updated: September 07, 2003
DENVER - Head lice outbreaks in school have reached an
all-time high. There are up to 12 million cases a year.
With school back in session, parents dread the thought of
their child coming home with lice. If this happens to you,
Consumer Reports has an important caution - there are
prescription treatments for lice that could be toxic to
Dr. Robert Schacter runs a service that helps parents get
rid of tough cases of head lice. Technicians make house
calls to wash and comb a child's hair. "Usually when a
parent calls us they are absolutely desperate," said
For parents desperate to get rid of lice on their own,
there are several products available at the drugstore.
Some you can get over-the-counter and others require a
But Consumer Reports researcher Nancy Metcalf has a
serious caution about two prescription treatments.
One, Lindane, has been on the market for more than 40
years. "The trouble with Lindane is it's a neuro-toxic
pesticide," said Metcalf.
She said lice have become resistant to Lindane over the
years, making it an increasingly ineffective lice killer.
"It's dangerous and it doesn't work very well. There's no
reason ever to use this," said Metcalf.
A second prescription medicine, Ovide uses a different
pesticide called malathion. It's effective, but Consumer
Reports says it can be harmful if absorbed through the
The instructions say to leave the medicated shampoo on for
8 to12 hours - even though tests show Ovide kills lice in
"The question is, how much is absorbed through the skin
and the answer is, we don't know,” said Metcalf. “But we
do know that the longer it stays on a child's head the
more is absorbed."
Consumer Reports says far safer are Rid and Nix,
over-the-counter medications that use relatively safe
insecticides. And it's essential to use a fine-tooth comb
on your child's hair to remove the lice and their eggs.
Schacter says proper combing technique is the most
important part of getting rid of lice.
Consumer Reports says because lice can become resistant to
pesticides over time, you may find that over-the-counter
medications aren't working. In that case, you may want to
consider using Ovide as a last resort. But Consumer
Reports says don't follow directions. Only leave it on
your child's head for 10 to 15 minutes, no more. And after
treatment, wash your child's hair to remove all residue.
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