Nov. 6, 2006 -- A hairdryer-like device kills head licein 30 minutes without the use of chemicals, University of Utah scientists report.
"We think it's killing the lice and eggs by desiccating them -- drying them out," says Dale Clayton, PhD, co-author of the study. Clayton is a professor of biology at the university and co-director of the university's Center for Alternate Strategies of Parasite Removal.
He says the device could be on the market in two years or less.
The Pest Problem
Head lice are more of a nuisance than a health threat.
They affect more than 6 million Americans each year, often children, Clayton estimates, accounting for 12 million or more missed school days.
The pests are about the size of a sesame seed and can spread quickly through a school as children's heads come into contact during play, or as they share hats, combs, and brushes.
Parents often use multiple shampoo treatments or special combs to rid their children of lice so they will be allowed back in school.
The new device blows out twice as much air as a normal hair blow dryer, Clayton says.
The temperature is about 138 degrees Fahrenheit, he says, a little cooler than a typical blow dryer.
Attached to the hose of the LouseBuster is a molded plastic hand piece with coarse teeth, which is pulled through the hair slowly while hot air blows in the opposite direction. This exposes the hair roots, where the nits attach.
"This is quite an assault on a tiny insect," he says. He compares it to the louse standing in a hurricane-force wind.
Once off its host, the louse can't survive more than 24 hours, Clayton says.