Photo by Gilles San Martin
Parents are using a highly toxic nerve gas agent to treat
head lice in children as young as 18 months.
Yesterday, the Dunedin-based National Poisons Centre issued a
warning against the use of animal remedies to treat head lice
in humans, particularly children.
Centre director Wayne Temple said these products contained
highly toxic organophosphates, which were widely used as
agricultural insecticides and as household pest control
''The organophosphates are actually a form of nerve gas
agent,'' he said, adding that a more potent type of the agent
had been used in recent chemical attacks in Syria.
The animal remedies contained fenthion, which was 140 times
more toxic than the low concentration approved for human use.
''You are starting to get much more toxic agents, and the
skin and hair of an animal is completely different from that
of a human.''
While symptoms were more severe and immediate after
ingestion, the agents could be absorbed through the skin in a
Recorded symptoms following a toxic exposure to these agents
included increased secretions of saliva, tears, mucus
(predominantly from the lungs), vomiting, sweating and fluid
''Would you do that to your child?''
Dr Temple said if the products were used over a long term,
''you might get neurological problems''.
There had been 120 recorded cases over the past decade
involving one particular popular brand of pet flea products
on children as young as 18 months.
''I think it is a case of people trying it and saying `that
is really good stuff', and then the word gets around,'' he
''People are obviously pretty good at getting hold of these
The National Poisons Centre wanted to discourage people from
using the products, and if users suffered symptoms following
an exposure, they should seek prompt medical attention.
Only head lice treatment products approved for human use
should be used.
• Head lice are small insects about 2mm to 4mm long and about
1mm wide. They have six legs with claws and are usually a
light or dark brown colour.
• Eggs (nits) are small and hard like a grain of salt and are
yellow-white in colour. Eggs are usually found on the hair
very close to the scalp. Those found further from the scalp
than one to one and a-half centimetres from the scalp are
probably dead or hatched.
• Infestation levels fluctuate for no apparent reason and
sometimes head lice appear to be epidemic, while at other
times they appear to be absent.
• Head lice do not jump but crawl from head to head, so do
not share brushes, combs, hats and other items that come into
contact with hair.
• Use a metal fine-toothed comb to comb hair, while
fingernails can effectively remove eggs.
• The chemicals used in head lice treatment are insecticides
and should be used with care and strictly as directed by the
SOURCE: MINISTRY OF EDUCATION