A total of 812 children were recruited for the study. Their average age was 10. The children were put into one of two treatment groups. One group received ivermectin on days one and eight at a dose equivalent to 400 micrograms per kilogram, while the other group was treated with malathion lotion on the same days. Study medications were provided by the drug manufacturers.
Each group was also given a placebo equivalent. Those in the ivermectin group were treated with a similarly-scented lotion on treatment days, and those in the malathion group were given placebo pills on treatment days.
No other lice treatments were permitted, not even combing lice eggs (nits) from the hair.
On day 15, the researchers examined the children for evidence of continued infestation. They found that ivermectin was more effective, with 95 percent of the children lice-free. In the malathion group, 85 percent of the children treated were lice-free.
The researchers found no significant differences in the frequency of adverse events related to treatment, according to the study.
"Ivermectin looks like another tool against head lice, but there are still a number of questions to be answered," said Dr. Mark Diamond, a pediatrician affiliated with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. "The risk of side effects isn't totally clear, and a systemic drug vs. a topical medication is clearly a change in process. Plus, I have no idea of the cost."
One advantage of ivermectin might be that it's easier to administer, he said. "Lotions and shampoos are messy, and if all other factors are equal, parents might prefer an oral medication," said Diamond.
The good news about lice, he said, is that "a head lice infection is not serious, and it doesn't lead to other harmful diseases or complications." And, he said, most children can be effectively treated with over-the-counter medications and careful combing to remove nits from th
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