Headlice danger

Reporter: Damien Hansen

Jodie Ball is wracked with guilt over what happened to her little girl after using a trusted head lice treatment. 18-month-old Ella's blistered and burnt scalp was a mess after she was treated with the nation's most popular anti-lice hair wash."It was like a black, burning sort of red and purple gunk and her skin was sort of pealing over like a banana, it was wrapping and sizzling over," Jodie said.

It didn't take long to eat away at the toddler's skin - she was taken to her local hospital with first degree burns, before being sent for further observation at the Burns Unit of the Brisbane Children's Hospital. "I just thought it looked like one of those fake masks that you peel off your facials - it was disgusting," Jodie said.

KP-24 Medicated Foam is a trusted brand, found on pharmacy shelves all across the country. "The possibility of these products causing first degree burns is very serious - very rare - but very serious," said Professor Chris Winders, a chemical expert from the University of New South Wales. He says the common ingredient in chemical based hair lice treatments is an insecticide called Maldison and it shouldn't be treated lightly.

"It is used for example in agriculture to kill insects, pests. But in this particular case it is very well known - it gets fleas and it is very well known against lice, so it can be used in flea powders and also lice shampoos like in this case," Professor Winders said. This was a worst case scenario for Jodie, the mother of three, as well as the manufacturers of KP-24.

"They didn't want me talking to media and they wanted all medical reports sent to them straight away, all photos," Jodie said. In a statement, Pharmacare, the manufactures of KP-24, said: "Rest assured that we take this matter seriously, and have every intention to ensure Ella makes a full recovery and covering out of pocket expenses that Ms. Ball may have incurred."

"It is unfortunate that with every therapeutic product in the market, there may be a chance of an adverse reaction to the active ingredients or other components." A recent choice survey of head lice treatments found herbal alternatives to insecticide treatments like KP 24 are becoming increasingly popular. But unlike insecticidal products most, until now, hadn't been independently assessed. Researchers at Queensland's James Cook University have come up with a natural hair lice treatment they say is more effective than traditional insecticide based rivals.

After evaluating half a dozen popular, natural, over-the-counter products, the university named Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Head Lice Gel as the best natural anti-lice treatment on the market. Pharmacare also tell us they're following the process for investigating and reporting adverse reactions to the Therapeutic Goods Administration and that Ella's appears to be an isolated case.