A newer drug appears to work well against head lice, researchers report. The new study used a lotion made with ivermectin, an insecticide. Researchers randomly divided 765 children who were infested with head lice into 2 groups. One group received ivermectin lotion. The other got a placebo containing no medicine. The lotions were applied to the hair and left on for 10 minutes before rinsing. A day later, 95% of the ivermectin group and 31% of the placebo group were louse-free. Researchers also checked at day 15 because louse eggs may hatch after treatment. At that point, 74% of the ivermectin group and 18% of the placebo group still had no lice. Researchers said current treatments, such as permethrin and pyrethrin, are only about 50% effective. Lice also have been gaining resistance to these treatments. Ivermectin is approved for other uses, but doctors can prescribe it for head lice. The New England Journal of Medicine published the study. An editorial in the issue said doctors should still prescribe standard treatments first and malathion second. The authors said we need to know more about ivermectin's long-term safety. HealthDay News wrote about the study October 31.
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
If you've ever had a child with head lice -- or if you've ever had lice yourself -- you know it can be a big deal. Here are just some of the reasons that head lice matter:
To make matters worse, lice increasingly are becoming resistant to standard treatments.
Given these realities, news about an easy and effective treatment for head lice may be important.
The New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a new study that tested ivermectin as a treatment for head lice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the treatment for head lice in February, but ivermectin is not the usual first choice of treatment. It's mainly used as an oral medicine for parasitic worm infections. So this research looked at a new way to use an old medicine.
The study included 765 children and adults who were infested with head lice. They were randomly assigned to receive ivermectin lotion or a placebo lotion. The placebo looked the same but contained no medicine. Each lotion was applied to the hair and scalp once for 10 minutes. Household contacts were treated only if they were also found to have lice.
The results were impressive:
Assessing the cure rate after 2 weeks is important because eggs laid before treatment may not hatch for 7 to 10 days. While the cure rate was not 100% at 2 weeks, that's common even with other highly effective treatments. It could be partly related to poor application of the lotion or to a second infection.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
Try to get past the "ick" factor. Lice may seem disgusting, but they are rarely dangerous. And they are usually easy to treat. If you or your child has head lice, here's what you can do:
Here's what you need not do:
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
Studies like this one could lead to ivermectin becoming a first choice for head lice. Before that happens, we'll need studies that directly compare different options with each other.
Unfortunately, you can expect head lice infestations to continue. They have been around for thousands of years and are difficult to wipe out entirely. New treatments are needed, especially as resistance becomes more common. I hope that we'll have even better medicines for the treatment of head lice in the future.
Categories: Children's Health
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