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 July 21, 2003
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Headlice: Much Ado About Nothing?
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(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- An article in this week's British Medical Journal takes on the age-old problem of headlice.

Researchers conclude: the pesky varmints aren't as big of a problem as people make them out to be. While the lice do need to be removed from the heads of infected individuals and nbsp;-- mainly children -- there is no need to launder bedding and clothing or use insecticides on furniture to kill lice that end up on these surfaces. Researchers say headlice can only live on the scalp, where they feed on the host's blood. Those found in places other than the head are already dead or dying and can cause no further harm.

According to the investigators, headlice can be effectively treated with chemical preparations such as Malathion, Lindane, Permethrin, and Pyrethrins, although Lindane does have some neurotoxic effects and should not be used by women who are pregnant or nursing. Other treatments for the condition, such as aromatherapy and herbal preparations need more study, as does the practice of removing the lice by combing them from the hair.

Researchers also find no evidence supporting the practice of tying the hair back or cutting the hair to avoid headlice. They say girls are more prone to headlice because they tend to come into closer contact with each other while playing, not because they have longer hair. Headlice is spread, they write, only by relatively prolonged head-to-head contact.

Finally, the investigators note about half of all children sent home with headlice do not actually have the parasite. They argue that policies banning children with headlice from school are unnecessary.

This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to: http://www.ivanhoe.com/newsalert/.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, 2003;325:1256-1258

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