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Opinion

Married couple finds effective method of removing lice

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October 8, 2015

Lice live for 30 days as adults, usually clustered together in harems of six or seven around a particularly warm, tasty feed site. They spend their days laying eggs – which they can do for 23 of their 30 – and feeding, depositing itch-inducing saliva to aid the bloodsucking process. Each louse is capable of laying as many as 10 eggs a day, which then proceed to hatch within about 10 days into a nymph. Within another 10 days, these nymphs will have grown into fully-formed adults and will be capable of laying eggs of their own.

Chris and Tanya O’Brien know very well the horrors of lice. Like many parents, they experienced the frustration and misery of an infestation when their own family became host to a clan of these vampiric parasites. Permethrin medications and home remedies couldn’t keep the problem away for good, but in their search for a solution, they encountered an unusual hot-air device that proved to be capable of killing both adult lice and their eggs (also known as ‘nits’). Their own problem solved, Tanya jokingly said to her husband, “We should start a shop up.”

Within two weeks, they’d bought a building that would eventually become home to the Lice Avengers treatment clinic.

“Typically, a lot of the patients who come to see us – they’ve been dealing with head lice for quite some time, and they’ve tried other things that have not worked, so they’re pretty frustrated,” said Chris.

The Air Allé hot-air device that Lice Avengers uses is unique as a treatment in that it is capable of killing the nits as well as the adults. The device looks like a vacuum cleaner, with a large box from which a six and a half-foot hose stretches. The end of the hose is tipped with something that looks like a thickly-tined hairbrush. Following a U-shaped pattern that circles the head, Chris and Tanya use the Air Allé to corral the lice to the top of the head, desiccating their little bodies along the way with a steady application of hot, dry air. The process takes about 30 minutes, and the machine has a 99.2% success rate.

“When we tell people what we do,” Chris says. “Their first reaction is to take a step back. Their second is to scratch their head.” Eliminating lice for a profession is a rather unusual choice and one that lends itself to certain dangers. Chris and Tanya take every precaution, however, when treating patients. They sell a variety of preventative products in addition to the hot air treatment, and they both use these products themselves as well as smocks, shower caps, and scrubs to keep themselves clean.

The O’Briens have noticed that the infestations usually run in close families. 30 seconds of head-to-head contact are all that a louse requires to make the crawl from one scalp to the other, and when one person in a household gets them, the rest tend to as well. An even worse situation is when a person doesn’t realize that he/she has lice. Only about 50 percent of people have an allergic reaction to the saliva—which causes the itching—and so an unsuspecting carrier might share a helmet or lean against a friend without realizing the danger. Selfies, Chris says, are especially perilous.

When asked about home remedies that might be useful for desperate parents, Tanya said that the home treatments will kill some of the lice. Unfortunately, they won’t get them all, and there is nothing on the market that can kill the nits. “If you miss just two nits,” Chris says, “The whole cycle starts over again.”

Lice treatment has been making some developments of late. A campaign called “End the Ignorance” is currently under way in an attempt to petition the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to revise its treatment recommendations. Lice, much like viruses or bacteria, are capable of mutating and adapting. The permethrin medicines that are currently marketed as lice treatments are losing their efficacy as the insects develop resistance, some dropping as low as 45 percent effective. “We have a lot of frustrated parents who come in, and it’s not that they’re doing anything wrong,” Tanya says. “It’s just they have so many checkmarks against them with using the wrong products.”

Larada Sciences—the makers of the Air Allé device—are the ones pushing the petition to make these revisions. Until then, however, it is up to the O’Briens and other enterprising businesspeople like them to lead in the fight against head lice. The Lice Avengers operate out of Glenwood City, Wisconsin, and they can be found at www.lice-avengers.com.

Sophia Koch is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.