Scabies and lice have one thing in common – they can spread from person to person. If not checked and treated in time, one member of the family can spread scabies and even lice to other members of the family. While scabies spreads largely through direct touch and even through sharing of clothes, bedding, furniture and other things in the house, lice crawls from head to head when they touch. There are some over the counter treatments available for the two skin problems, but recently an active ingredient used in scabies creams and lice shampoo has been linked to causing cancer.
We don’t have a better way to dress it up – children and even adult bodies are magnet to lice. One day anyone in the house can bring the unwanted guest home without even noticing it. Lice are not found of anything more than human hair – all types of human hair – as long as they can sit amid them and suck on the blood from the infected person’s scalp, laying eggs and multiplying in numbers.
Lice, owing to their size, can be pretty hard to see. Therefore, it becomes difficult to guess if a person has hairlice or not. The infected can only be identified only when they begin to scratch the head constantly – especially behind the ears and the nape of the neck.
Scabies on the other hand is caused by tiny mites that burrow under the skin and lay eggs, causing itchiness in the skin. The infected person can develop intense itching, red rashes and the itching becomes worst in bed at night.
While only the person with lice needs treatment initially (unless the lice have spread to others in the family), it’s important to treat the whole family at the same time to avoid scabies from spreading.
What links scabies and lice treatment to cancer?
An insecticide found in lice and scabies treatment, according to World Health Organization, causes cancer. The insecticide has been especially linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma - a type of cancer which begins lymphocytes (cells) that form part of the body's immune system.
After reviewing latest scientific literature on different insecticides, WHO’s International Agency for Research published its findings in the journal [Lancet Oncology], wherein the insecticide lindane has been classified as carcinogenic to humans.
Lindane as widely used for insect control around the world. Lately the insecticide has been banned for agricultural use in most countries of the world, including Canada. In Canada however, lindane is allowed for treatment of head lice and scabies in humans.
In various studies conducted on people in the USA and Canada, according to the agency, almost 60 percent increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma was seen in people exposed to the insecticide lindane.
Amid other places in the world, California banned pharmaceutical use of lindane in 2002. The ban was due to fact that the insecticide is contaminating waste water. In a follow up study in 2008, it was found that post ban; waste water had significantly reduced level of lindane.
Since an exemption permitting lindane use in treatment for scabies and head lice is expiring soon in both Canada and Australia, the two countries are amid the latest set of countries banning the use of treatments containing lindane.
Though, no study has really been carried out to quantify the cancer risk caused by exposure to lindane in head lice and scabies, but the WHO findings have raised an alarm and everyone is cautious about it.