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Blown Away

Lice meet hair dryer of death

By Emily SaarmanFebruary 26, 2007 6:00 AM


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Head lice are becoming indestructible. A study found that as many as 80 percent of the bugs are immune to insecticides in over-the-counter shampoos, and resistance will only increase. Evolutionary biologist Dale Clayton may have a new line of attack.

Clayton, who usually studies lice on bird feathers, stumbled onto his solution after a major research setback. When he moved his laboratory from England to the University of Utah a decade ago, his entire louse collection perished in the dry desert air. Soon after, his 8-year-old came home from school with head lice. He wondered if human head lice could also be killed by drying them out. "It was sort of a forehead slapper," Clayton says.

After conventional hair dryers failed, Clayton came up with the LouseBuster, a 10-pound device resembling a vacuum cleaner that desiccates the bugs with a jet of 140-degree air. "It's a pretty brutal assault," he says. Tests show the invention is both safe and effective, eradicating 80 percent of live lice and 98 percent of eggs, leaving survivors unable to breed. And, Clayton says, "it will be awfully hard for lice to develop resistance."

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