New device for busting nits

A team of biologists in the U.S. have come up with a device which eradicates head lice infestations in children.

The 'LouseBuster' uses no chemicals but instead relies on a hairdryer-like piece of equipment which exterminates the eggs, or "nits," and kills enough lice to prevent them from reproducing.

Previous research has found that nits, lose their amniotic fluid in hot conditions making it difficult for them to hatch.

Dale Clayton, a University of Utah biologist who led the research and co-invented the machine, says the Louse Buster is particularly effective because it kills the eggs, which chemical treatments have never been very good at.

The Louse Buster also kills hatched lice well enough to eliminate entire infestations say the researchers.

The machine works by blowing warm air through a flexible hose, which has a rake-like hand attachment on the end and kills the lice and nits by drying them out, rather than heating them.

One 30-minute treatment is all that is needed which compares well with chemical treatments which entail multiple applications 1 to 2 weeks apart.

Juan Carlos Morales, a program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which helped fund the research, says it is an example of the important benefits to society that result from basic biological research.

For the new study, the researchers tested six ways of applying hot air to 169 children's lice-infested scalps between 2001-2005 in Salt Lake Valley schools.

The researchers found that an 80 percent kill rate was high enough to prevent remaining lice from breeding - possibly due to stress or sterilization - so virtually all subjects were cured of head lice when examined one week following treatment with the Louse Buster.

As far as commercially marketing the LouseBuster is concerned, it is still in the early stages, but Clayton hopes the devices will be on the market within 2 years for use in schools and clinics.

Clayton does warn parents against use home hair dryers to try to kill head lice.

The researchers say each year, 6 to 12 million Americans are infested with head lice, accounting for between 12 million to 24 million lost school days.

Current treatments for lice include chemical shampoos, louse combs and home remedies and the annual sales of anti-louse shampoos alone exceed $160 million.

As many parents are reluctant to use insecticide shampoos on children, lice are rapidly becoming resistance to chemicals and the hot air dryer is likely to avoid such problems.

The study is published in the November 2006 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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