A Better Treatment for Head Lice?

Combing Technique May Be Better Than Over-the-Counter Lotions

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 4, 2005 - A new combing technique is four times more effective at getting rid of lice than over-the-counter lotions, a new study shows.

Head lice are very common among preschool and elementary school children. Adults can be affected, too. But getting rid of the pests can be challenging.

Anyone who comes in close contact with someone who already has head lice can become infested. Coming in contact with clothing or other personal items (such as brushes or towels) that belong to an infested person can lead to lice, according to the CDC.

Girls get head lice more often than boys, women more than men. In the U.S., African-Americans rarely get head lice, says the CDC.

Although they pose no direct threat, head lice, if allowed to go untreated, may lead to other infections.

Searching for a Better Treatment

Treatment of head lice has traditionally required medicated lotions - over-the-counter or prescription. But it's not as simple as taking a pill.

Treatment involves applying lotions into the hair and scalp and is left for 8 to 12 hours.

Wet combing with conditioner first surfaced as a treatment nearly 10 years ago. But little research has tested whether this treatment is as effective as medicated lotions.

More Than Half Cured

According to the study, wet combing is four times more effective than current over-the-counter chemical treatments in eliminating head lice.

Researchers compared a specially developed "Bug Buster" kit with common over-the-counter lice treatments in 126 youngsters with head lice.

They evaluated the presence of head lice two to four days after the end of treatment and again on day five for the lotions and day 15 for the Bug Buster kit.

The new method involves using a fine-toothed comb on thoroughly wet hair.

Among the kids that received the combing technique, 57% were cured compared with 13% of kids using the lotions.

The study, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, appears in the current issue of the British Medical Journal.

The finding contrasted with that of a previous study in Wales, which indicated the Bug Buster kit was only half as effective as a prescription lotion.

In all likelihood, the discrepancy resulted from the improvement to the fine-toothed comb, as that was the only major change, according to Nigel Hill, head science officer.

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SOURCES: BMJ Online First. CDC.
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