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Is Your Child’s Lice Treatment More Dangerous Than Head Lice?

Is the treatment for your child’s head lice putting his health in danger?As a new academic year begins, school nurses, public health officials, and experienced parents all find their thoughts turning to one subject: lice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that between six to twelve million lice infestations occur in the United States each year, and that children aged 3 to 11 are at greatest risk of coming home with lice. If you have dealt with lice in your home then you know that it can be uncomfortable and that the treatment can be difficult, costly, and time-consuming.

But Could the Treatment Also Be Dangerous?

One way to treat lice is with a shampoo that contains lindane. Lindane shampoos have been approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) since the 1950s and remain on the market today. However, the FDA recommends that lindane shampoo only be used when other lice treatments are ineffective and that lindane shampoo only be used once. The agency estimates that up to one million prescriptions are written annually for lindane shampoo in the United States.

Recently, a specialist panel of the World Health Organization (WHO) found a link between lindane and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—a form of cancer. The link was specifically made between the use of lindane in agriculture and the development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among agricultural workers. No studies have yet been conducted about the risks of lindane in lice treatments; however, parents and doctors should be aware of the potential risk.

As we begin the school year, when our preschool and elementary aged students are more likely to come into contact with other kids who have lice, we encourage you to be aware of different treatment options and to talk to your child’s doctor before starting treatment. (Additionally, we apologize to anyone who finds themselves suddenly itchy and eager to go home and check their children’s heads after reading this blog post.)

Jason F. Abraham
Managing Partner, Hupy and Abraham
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