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FDA approves no-comb head lice treatment

These seem to be good times for head lice and the folks who fight them -- where I live, at least.

Just last week, a friend’s daughter had to miss a day of school when lice and nits arrived. My friend brought in professionals to give the child a comb-through to clear away the critters, and get her readmitted into school.

A few days later, my own kid’s elementary school sent a letter warning parents to be on the lookout (and helpfully offering a referral to a louse-removal service: “We nit-pick so you don’t have to.”)

But a new treatment for lice could potentially take a bite out of the louse-busters’ business.

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On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new lotion called Sklice for treatment of head lice in kids 6 months and older. Sanofi-Pasteur U.S., which makes Sklice, said in a statement that the lotion could treat lice in most patients in a single dose, no nit-combing required. In clinical trials, the majority of patients treated with Sklice (but not offered nit-combing) were louse-free after two weeks.

Ivermectin, the active ingredient in the product, is an antiparasitic agent that kills the lice but is not harmful to mammals. It has been used orally for more than 20 years to combat other parasitic illnesses, including river blindness.

In theory, if Sklice is successful, it could inspire schools to curtail policies that don’t allow kids to attend school if there are nits or lice in their hair. In a 2010 report, the American Academy of Pediatrics reiterated the case against “no-nit” rules, which prohibit kids from coming to school if any of the louse eggs remain on their heads. “No child should be allowed to miss valuable school time because of head lice,” the paper’s authors wrote.

Whether such recommendations, even accompanied by a dose of Sklice, will change minds about lice in school remains to be seen. Head lice aren’t dangerous, but most people still find them gross and unsettling. When the Los Angeles Unified School district switched from a no-nit policy to a more liberal policy in 2006, some parents recoiled, telling Los Angeles Times reporter Tanya Caldwell that the policy was “messed up” and “cuckoo.”

The ick factor alone could keep the nit-picking industry going indefinitely. “It took me an hour to cover 15% of her head and then I gave up and called the professionals,” my friend (who says that she is “wigged out” by lice) wrote in an e-mail. "$90/hour but totally worth it!!!”

The FDA provides this handout on lice.


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