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Prescription Lice Medication May Do More Harm Than Good


The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is concerned about the number of head lice products advertised on the Internet, many of which make promises that are not backed up by science. In April, nearly 30 sites were sent a warning letter about this, and the FTC is now deciding whether to take action against some of them.

Another prescription product, called Ovide, contains a chemical called malathion. This is the same substance that is used to kill mosquitoes during aerial spraying and may cause reactions in some people. Ovide is also not without controversy, as some believe it may be flammable because alcohol is one of its major ingredients.

So what's a parent to do? "I think combing is extremely important," says Laura Koss, a FTC staff attorney.

Paula Hensel, RN, a pediatric nurse practitioner and former public health department nurse, tells WebMD she counsels families to refrain from panicking when head lice are discovered and says over-the-counter shampoos are "worth a try."

But Hensel, who practices at Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin, quickly adds that these preparations won't kill all the lice, and most of the eggs will escape injury, too. "I think what is required is a lot of patience, just sitting down and combing," says Hensel, noting that a comb developed by the NPA is the best she has seen. "This one is much better than the others and gets the job done quicker," she says.

"We would like to think that you don't have to use any medications, that by combing you should be able to comb them all out," says Truding.

Experts advise cleaning the living area and bed linens but stress that more energy should go into checking all family members for signs of lice. None recommended using sprays that are sold with lice insecticides.

All of the myriad products available make lice removal "very complicated," admits Deborah Altschuler, NPA president. "But it really isn't complicated. All parents want their children to be lice and [egg]-free. But no matter what you do, you have to remove the lice and [eggs]."

She adds that regular screening of children and other precautions, such as not sharing hats, are also essential to keep outbreaks from occurring.



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