Ivermectin: A Possible New Head Lice Treatment
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Ivermectin: A Possible New Head Lice Treatment

Could Ivermectin be the next medicine for the treatment of head lice.

Could this be a new medicine for the treatment of head lice?

What is Ivermectin

Ivermectin (Stromectol) is an anti-parasite drug that you take orally in pill form to get rid of certain parasitic diseases in people. Veterinarians prescribe ivermectin for certain breeds of dogs (not border collies), cats and horses for mites and mange.

Ivermectin is approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of strongloidiasis, which is a disease brought on by parasites that cause roundworm infection. It is also approved for the treatment of onchocerciasis or river blindness. The FDA has not approved ivermectin for a head lice treatment.

Ivermectin for Scabies

Scabies is very contagious or communicable and is caused by mites. Scabies can happen in animals and humans. The tiny mites get under the skin which is what causes the intense itching from the allergic reactions we have to the mites.

A study with 20 children ages between 1 and 10 years old and 12 adults who had scabies were given a 1% ivermectin applied to the affected areas of the skin and repeated once the following week. All patients were cured of scabies and no serious side effects or adverse reactions were reported [1]. Even though this is not for head lice, the thinking is that ivermectin could also be used topically for lice, especially super lice that have become resistant to the normal remedies.

Treating Head Lice with Ivermectin

A 2006 multi center double-blind 6-month study used 812 patients compared using 0.5% malathion lotion with oral ivermectin. The patients were at least two years old with a mean age of 10 years old and weighed more than 33 pounds (15 kg).

The dose of the ivermectin was 400 ug (micrograms) per kg of body weight and taken orally in the form of pills. 398 patients received the ivermectin and a fake lotion. 414 patients received the malathion lotion and a fake pill.

At the end of 15 days, 95% of the patients who received the oral ivermectin were free of lice compared with 85% of the patients who had the malathion lotion. This study suggests that ivermectin could be an alternative medicine for hard to get rid of head lice [2]. Some children did report nausea and a rash, but the incidences of side effects were not greater in the ivermectin group compared with the malathion group, three reactions were considered severe.

The FDA has not approved ivermectin for use on head lice as of this time. Your doctor can prescribe it to you. Make sure you talk to your doctor about the possible side effects and drug interactions with ivermectin.

An in vitro study - a study that is performed in a test tube - used 1% ivermectin solution for 10 minutes that caused the lice to lose motor control which caused them to die [3].

Common Side Effects of Ivermectin

The most common side effects include:

  • Being lightheaded
  • Bloating
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea

Dangerous Side Effects of Ivermectin and Warnings

Do not go on the internet and just buy this and take it for head lice, you need to talk to your doctor. If you have liver problems, you might not be able to take ivermectin or the dosage might have to be altered. If you get these side effects, you need to see a doctor right away:

  • Swelling of the lymph nodes
  • An allergic reaction including hives, difficulty breathing, itching and swelling of the face, tongue or lips.
  • Vision changes or your eyes swelling or turning red
  • Problems with bowels or urinary tract
  • Weakness, confusion or feeling off balance
  • Seizures

Do not drink any alcohol while taking ivermectin.

If you are pregnant, bread-feeding or there is a chance you could become pregnant, you shouldn’t take ivermectin.

Study Conflict of Interest

There is a disclaimer for the study cited in the New England Journal of Medicine concerning a conflict of interest. A doctor and two study authors received consulting fees from Johnson and Johnson-Merck and owning stock options in this company. Johnson and Johnson-Merck own the ivermectin brand name Stromectol.


Ivermectin could be the next head lice treatment but more studies need to be done as for the long term effects. The dose (400 ug/kg of body weight) used in this study cannot be prescribed by doctors in the US or Europe. And the long term effects of ivermectin are not known. Doctors are more confident with using the recently approved benzyl alcohol lotion (brand name Ulesfia) to get rid of head lice.

For further information, please read How to Get Rid of Head Lice in Children.

© August 2010 Sam Montana


[1] New England Journal of Medicine

[2] National Institute of Health PubMed

[3] Head lice therapies revisited Craig G Burkhart MD MPH1, Craig N Burkhart MD MSBS2 Dermatology Online Journal 12 (6):3

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Comments (9)

Great reporting, I am sure a pill would be a much easier treatment then all the other things that need to be done.

I still think the old way of combing out the hair with a small tooth comb and loads of conditioner is the best and safest way. We used to use Ivermectin on dogs for worms!

Great tips, Sam.


your article is a very good read, to be honest.. i really dont want to use some kind of chemical agents on my kids head.

but sometimes. the home remedies just doesnt work. and head lice, is

really hard to get rid of. also nits are hard to remove because you have to get a special comb to remove them.

David, there are a number of commercial non-toxic head lice treatments you can buy and try. I listed those in my other article. "How to Get Rid of Head Lice in Children".


Gonne Asser

The most important piece to eradicating lice is using a HIGH QUALITY nit comb, not found in pharmacies. Expert lice professionals do not use pesticides because they do not work (hence why we are in business) and they also are unsafe. If you choose to use an OTC product with Permethrin and it does not work I highly ADVISE you NOT to get a prescription pesticide (Malathion or Lindane) as they are highly dangerous. Lindane has been banned in 37 countries, the state of California and is being reviewed for ban in the state of New York. Malathion also an organophosphate pesticide (DDT is also one) is classified by the EPA as "suggestive evidence of carcinogenicity" and has had serious side effects such as "nausea, headache, tightness in the chest, convulsions and unconsciousness".

Lice are extremely fragile in the environment (dehydrate VERY quickly) and cannot live longer than 24 hours without a human blood meal (they don't live on pets). Focusing on items worn in the last 24 hours, bedsheets, combs/brushes will cover your possible exposure from the environment. Experts believe lice transmission from inanimate objects to be less than 2%. So cover your bases but don't fine tooth comb the carpet!

Experts eradicate lice and their nits (eggs) usually in less than one 3 hour session using a high quality nit comb and all should do a follow-up within 7 days. Get yourself a high quality nit comb and focus on the nits - comb again in a couple days. Then follow-up again in a couple days to make sure you have not missed any nits.

More info can be found on our website www.mnlicelady.com

Nobody is insured from head lice, but hygiene should be on the first place.

Nobody is insured from head lice, but hygiene should be on the first place.