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A Pill to Treat Head Lice?

head-lice-sm250I, knock wood, have no first-hand experience with head lice, but what I hear from the those who do is truly frightening. These icky little parasites, which infest more than 100 million heads each year, have apparently become more and more resistant to the medications used to get rid of them.  I know parents who tell horror stories of weeks spent treating, combing, picking and washing only to have the microscopic creepy crawlies return again and again.

Even as most people have gotten over the stigma associated with head lice (we have gotten over that, right?), the trauma of trying to get rid of them has intensified.  However, scientists are on the job and think they may have come up with a solution in the form of a pill. 

The Merck Stromectal pill, which contains the same medication used to treat heartworms in dogs, has been shown effective in killing head lice that have become resistant to the most commonly used pyrethroid-based products.

In clinical trials, 812 head lice-infected people who had already tried those common treatments without success were given one of four treatments:  a placebo lotion, a powerful pesticide lotion containing malathion, a placebo pill or Stromectal.  The treatments were administered twice over a two-week period.  By day 15, 95% of those who had taken Stromectal were free of lice compared to 85% of those who were treated with the pesticide lotion.

The study participants reported a preference for the pill over the lotion, mostly due to the fact that the lotion must remain on the head for 10 to 12 hours before being washed out.

However, the success of the pill was balanced somewhat with a pretty scary potential side-effect.  One study participant, a 7-year-old girl, suffered a seizure six days after her first dose of Stromectal.  She was hospitalized and sent home with an epilepsy drug.

As someone with a healthy fear of drugs, I would try almost any topical treatment available before resorting to a pill.  What about you?  Have you been on the front lines with a lice infestation?  How did it go?

Image: downing.amanda/Flickr

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