Four years after the LouseBuster prototype made headlines when research showed the chemical-free, warm-air device wiped out head lice on children, a new study reveals that a revamped, government-cleared model is highly effective.
“For a louse, it’s like sticking your head out a window at 100 miles an hour; they’re going to get dried out,” says University of Utah biology Professor Dale Clayton, senior author of the study and a founder of Larada Sciences, a university spinoff company that sells or leases the LouseBuster to schools, camps, medical clinics and delousing businesses.
The new study of 56 louse-infested children and adults — soon to be published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Medical Entomology— found 94.8 percent of lice and their eggs, known as nits, were dead after treatment with the LouseBuster.
The original LouseBuster prototype proved effective in a study published in November 2006 in the journal Pediatrics. But it was noisy, wouldn’t plug into home electrical outlets and got tangled in curly hair. It looked like a cumbersome canister vacuum with a hose on it, and blew warm air through a comb-like applicator.
After the first study, thousands of people with louse-infested children contacted Clayton and the University of Utah seeking the device, even though it was only a research prototype and was meant for eventual use by school nurses and other delousing professionals, not private individuals. It took three more years for the revamped LouseBuster to hit the market after gaining U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance as a medical device. It was patented in September 2010.
“We’ve moved from clinical trials to having the machine available so infested people can get treated by this device. It’s not a prototype anymore,” says the study’s first author, Sarah Bush, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah.
The new LouseBuster sports improvements over the prototype: less noise, the ability to plug into a standard electrical outlet and an applicator that doesn’t get tangled in hair. The applicator delivers air through 28 cone-shaped tips held against the scalp.