Louse-y news (that’s good)
An estimated 6 to 12 million children in the United States, ages three to 11, are infested each year by the head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis). Girls may be sugar and spice, but they also get more head lice – presumably because of more frequent head-to-head contact.
The typical treatment involves topical application of a lice-killing medication (a pediculicide), meticulous combing out of the hair to extract nits or lice eggs and a thorough cleansing of both the person and any clothing, bedding or other materials that may have been in contact with the infested head. (Deep cleaning isn’t actually necessary for furniture and beyond because once a louse is off the head, it quickly starves to death).
The process is no fun for child or parent, and multiple treatments are recommended because 1) lice have evolved resistance to the primary medications now on the market and 2) none of these medications are 100 percent effective, especially at killing nits.
The good news is there are new options.
A topical formulation called ivermectin, originally designed to treat threadworm, has shown an almost 75 percent effectiveness rate after just one 10-minute application to dry hair. That’s on par with current two-application treatments.
The drug, dubbed Sklice and already approved by the FDA, appears to kill both adult lice and larvae hatching from eggs, eliminating the laborious “nitpicking.” It joins another couple of newly approved, benzyl alcohol-based anti-lice drugs, Ulesfia. With all three, the most common adverse side effects were irritation of skin and eyes. There are also minimum-age restrictions on use.
Two other things to know:
First, Sklice was tested against a placebo, not other existing treatments, so it remains to be seen whether it’s a primary go-to drug or one that should be held in reserve for cases where other remedies don’t work.
And second, because it appears to generally work without need for re-treatment (73.8 percent of trial subjects were lice-free two weeks after treatment), it means infested children may no longer be required to stay home from school for a few days.