“Bug Buster” Comb Better than Chemical Lice Treatments

“Bug Buster” Comb Better than Chemical Lice Treatments

Healthnotes Newswire (September 29, 2005)—The Bug Buster fine-toothed comb used in wet and conditioned hair kills head lice better than chemical insecticide treatments, according to the British Medical Journal (online publication, 2005 Aug 5).

Head lice are a common problem worldwide, especially among school children. It is estimated that 10 to 12 million children in the United States are infested with head lice every year. An itchy scalp may be the only symptom of head louse infestation, but allergic reactions to the lice and bacterial infections brought on by excessive scratching can also occur. Getting rid of lice is particularly difficult because infestation spreads easily from person to person, leading to epidemics in schools and communities.

Common therapies for head lice include lotions and shampoos made with malathion, pyrethrins, permethrins, lindane, and other insecticides. In addition to causing minor rashes and skin irritations in some people, some of these insecticides are toxic to the nervous and immune systems and repeated use increases their toxicity. Furthermore, head lice can quickly develop resistance to these substances, resulting in greater difficulty controlling outbreaks and multiple applications for many children.

Bug Buster is a special fine-toothed comb used in wet and conditioned hair. The conditioner is thought to disturb the lice and cause them to stop moving, and the comb removes both living and dead insects. The manufacturer recommends that it be used four times in two weeks. Repeated use of the comb is intended to remove the lice as they hatch, before they have time to mature and lay more eggs.

In the current study, 126 children between ages 2 and 15 who had head lice were randomly assigned to be treated with malathion, permethrin, or Bug Buster combing. Children receiving treatment with the chemical insecticides were treated once and were checked for head lice 5 days later. The Bug Buster treatment involved wetting the hair, applying a common hair conditioning product chosen by the family, and then using the special comb. Wet and conditioned hair combing was performed as recommended by the manufacturer and these children were examined for head lice 15 days after starting the combing. There were no live lice found on the heads of 57% of the children treated with Bug Buster; in contrast, only 17% of those treated with malathion and 10% of those treated with permethrin were found to be louse-free after treatment.

The results of this study show that combing wet and conditioned hair with a fine-toothed comb is more effective at clearing head lice than popularly used chemical insecticides. The importance of this finding is limited by the low response rate to the treatment: although it worked better than the insecticides, 43% of the children still had head lice after treatment. By contrast, one previous study found that a preparation made from essential oils of anise and ylang ylang in a coconut oil base was effective at eradicating head lice in 92% of children. Future studies might look at the effectiveness of combining these two safe treatments.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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