Chemical shampoos and fine-toothed combs are no longer the only options for getting rid of lice. A louse-killing device that uses hot air to dry out the insects is 94.8 percent successful in destroying lice and their eggs, according to a new study.
When lice were exposed for 30 minutes to the 138-degree Fahrenheit (58.9-degree Celsius) air emitted from the device, called the LouseBuster, researchers found that nearly all the lice were killed.
"It's like sticking your head out the window of a speeding car — like the effect on your eyes, it dries [the lice] out," said study researcher and LouseBuster creator Dale Clayton, a biology professor at the University of Utah.
The Food and Drug Administration cleared the device for sale and public use (it costs $2,000 to $2,500) last year. The device is made by the university-affiliated company Larada Sciences, and Clayton has a financial interest in the company.
The study will be published next month in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
Busting the lice
Researchers recruited 56 louse-infested children and adults for the study. To determine the extent of each person's infestation, they used a comb to collect all the lice and nits from half of their head.
Then each person's entire head was treated with the LouseBuster for 30 minutes. At the end of the treatment, researchers collected lice from the side of the head that had not been combed first, and counted how many lice and nits the LouseBuster treatment had removed.
They found that 88.2 percent of the hatched lice had died and 99.2 percent of nits failed to hatch. The lice that weren't killed immediately by the LouseBuster died later in the week, Clayton said.
Though a similar number of lice and nits can be removed with a thorough combing, Clayton said, the LouseBuster is easier and less time-consuming to use.
However, he recommended a thorough 15-minute combing at the end of the LouseBuster treatment, to remove any extra live lice or eggs that may still be lingering in the hair.
Nitpicking the costs
The device isn't currently available for individuals to buy, but professional nit-pickers, school nurses and nonprofit organizations such as community centers have already started purchasing or renting the device to treat lice.
Treatments can cost anywhere from $99 to $275 a person, depending on the provider. The price is comparable to what it costs to buy louse-removal shampoos and stay home from work to take care of your child, Clayton said.
Clayton created the device four years ago, but it was bulkier, couldn't plug into traditional outlets and easily became tangled with curly hair.
Today's version is more compact, fits into traditional outlets and works on all hair types and lengths, he said. Anyone who buys or rents one has to take a two-hour training session to learn how to properly administer the heat treatment.
Pass it on: If you have a child with lice and you don't want to put chemicals in his or her hair or spend hours with a comb, consider paying a nitpicker to come to your home and use the LouseBuster to get rid of the insects.
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