Fine combing of wet hair is far more effective than
pharmacy-bought chemical lotions for eliminating head lice, say
People who used wet combing were four times more
likely to rid themselves of head lice than those who used insecticide
products, they found.
Head lice have developed resistance to common over the
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
research is published in the British Medical Journal.
Head lice live close to the scalp, where there is
warmth, food and shelter.
They cannot fly, jump or hop and are spread when
people's heads touch each other.
To reproduce, they lay eggs that stick to the hair and
hatch baby lice.
If the adult lice are removed from the head they
cannot survive for more than about 24 hours.
Wet combing works by removing the adult lice, thereby
stopping them laying any more eggs which should eventually stop the
Chemical lotions work by killing the adult lice and
However, neither treatment is 100% effective all of
Frequent, repeated use of insecticide products is not
recommended and lice are beginning to develop resistance to these
chemicals, called pediculicides.
Head to head
Nigel Hill and his team asked the parents of 126
children aged 2-15 with head louse infestations to use pharmacy-bought
insecticide products or the wet combing method, called Bug Busting,
after washing the hair with normal shampoo and conditioner.
Overall, 56 of the children were treated using the Bug
Busting method and 70 using over-the-counter delousing products.
The researchers then checked how many still had head
lice two to four days after the volunteers had finished their treatment.
The cure rate of the Bug Busting method was far higher
than that of the chemical treatment - 57% compared to 13%.
The authors said: "For every two or three people using
the Bug Buster kit rather than pediculicides an extra person would be
However, only one dose of insecticide was used in the
study as recommended by manufacturers.
Need for new treatments
In the UK, experts generally recommend a further dose
is used a week later to catch any eggs that evaded the first treatment
and have hatched.
A past study showed this double dose had a cure rate
Also, the current study authors said the Bug Busting's
cure rate of 57% may still be too low to provide an efficient treatment
against head lice.
"At present there are no readily available products
that provide fully effective control of head lice and there is an urgent
need," they said.
Dr Richard Roberts, consultant in clinical disease
control at the National Public Health Service for Wales, said: "This
shows that Bug Busting can work.
"To treat head lice, you need a mixture of treatments.
It depends on the parent."
He said some parents might get on better using the
lotions, while others who have more time to dedicate to combing out the
lice, which can take up to half an hour if the child has very long hair,
might prefer non-chemical Bug Busting.
Also, pregnant women and children under the age of one
should not use the chemical lotions, he said.
Some parents do not want to use chemical treatments
for their child and opt to use herbal products.
However, Dr Roberts warned that these were unregulated
and were potentially harmful.
He agreed that new treatment options were needed.
He said a promising experimental treatment was
silicone-based gels that encase the louse and stop it feeding so it