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Beware Lice 'Cures' on the Internet

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WebMD Health News

April 14, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Nearly 30 companies hawking lice-killing products on the Internet have ticked off the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). What's bugging the FTC is outlandish claims that products are "100% effective killing lice and eggs," they "eliminate the need for combing," and "create an environment where lice can't survive." The FTC says without scientific evidence, such claims cannot be made.

"Promises of sure-fire cures aren't always what they seem," Joni Lutovitz, an attorney in the FTC's Division of Enforcement, tells WebMD. "We want the advertisers -- whether they're online or not -- to offer scientific support for their claim, and we want parents and other caregivers to exercise caution when they're reviewing advertising and claims for products."

Also called pediculus humanus capitis, head lice are insects found on the heads of as many as 6 million to 12 million people worldwide each year, according to the CDC. Head lice are most often transmitted thorough head-to-head contact. Not surprisingly, children 3-10 years old and their families are infested most often. The CDC says girls get head lice more often than boys, and women more than men. In the U.S., blacks rarely get head lice.

There are three forms of lice. Lice eggs -- which are hard to see and are often confused for dandruff or hair spray droplets and attached to hair shafts -- are called nits. When hatched after about a week, the nit becomes a nymph, which feeds on blood from the scalp. About seven days later, they become adults.

Besides their visual presence, the adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, has six legs, and is tan to grayish-white in color.

People with lice report a tickling feeling of something moving in the hair. They also experience itching, caused by an allergic reaction to the bites, and sores on the head caused by scratching.

Having already brought three companies and their lice-killing products to court -- Pfizer Inc.'s "Rid," Del Lab's "Pronto," and Care Technologies Inc.'s "Clear" -- and forcing them to change their advertising, the FTC's Division of Enforcement and its Western Regional Office are just itching to go after these other companies.

According to Brenda Mack, a spokesperson in the FTC's Office of Consumer Affairs, these 28 web sites the FTC found may be in violation of deceptive advertising rules. "Staff have sent warnings stating that health claims must be supported by scientific evidence," says Mack in a prepared statement. "The FTC staff urged site sponsors to examine their claims and warned that if they misrepresent the benefits of their products, or if their claims were not properly substantiated, they may be subject to legal action."

Despite the stigma attached to lice -- it's considered a sign of poor hygiene -- children of all economic classes and races get them. But this same stigma often causes parents to seek the anonymity of the Internet to order over-the-counter solutions.

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