Head lice shrivel with chemical-free warm air device

A prototype that successfully rids children’s and adult’s hair of headlice has now been revamped and cleared for use by the US government. The original LouseBuster prototype proved effect in a study published in 2006, and prompted thousands of enquiries from people desperate to rid their families of the infestations. But the prototype was noisy, impossible to plug in to home electrical outlets and got tangled in curly hair. Sold by Larada Sciences for between $2,000 and $2,500, the new model is quieter, the new applicator will not get tangled in hair and it can be plugged in to a standard electrical outlet.

The new study, led by Sarah Bush, assistant professor at the University of Utah, tested the device on 56 louse-infested adults and children, and found that 94.8% of lice and their eggs (nits) were dead after treatment. The most widely used treatments for delousing are chemical based, but the lice are becoming resistant to the insecticides, and parents are more and more reluctant to use such chemicals on their children. The shampoos will also only kill live lice, so a second treatment is required just after the eggs hatch but before they lay more eggs, so timing is imperative, or else the whole cycle has to be repeated. With the LouseBuster, no chemicals are involved at all, and the device simply dries out the lice and nits with a precisely delivered jet of warm air. Treating the whole head takes approximately 30 minutes. The temperature is lower than a normal hairdryer, but the LouseBuster delivers two or three times more air onto the head.

In the study, lice and nits were collected from half of each patient’s head, most of which were alive. Then the whole head was treated with the LouseBuster, and again lice and nits were collected from the other side of the head. Eighty-eight percent of the lice were dead, and 99.2% of the nits failed to hatch, for an overall mortality rate of 94.8%. Plus lice not killed were either sterilised by the LouseBuster or died later, and the eggs did not hatch because the treatment had killed them. In tests, climate and hair length made no difference to the effectiveness, but the skill of the operators made a slight difference to the mortality rates of the lice.

In future, the LouseBuster could be used on livestock.

University of Utah News Service

First Published in Janury 2011

More research on infant and child health.




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