From Louse to LouseBuster to AirAllé® Lice Removal in Sacramento, CA

The Fascinating History Behind the AirAllé® Head Lice Treatment Device

The concept behind the AirAllé® device was launched in the laboratory Dr. Dale Clayton at the University of Utah when a chain of lice-related events converged on the poor doctor.  As a professor of Biology, Dr. Clayton was already familiar with lice because he was using bird lice for basic research, but when his kids contracted lice at school and he couldn’t eradicate them using traditional treatment methods – and being the good scientist that he is – he wanted to invent a solution.  The first prototypes were Frankenstein-like hair dryers, but after much tinkering and testing evolved into clinically tested and FDA-cleared, commercially-viable devices.  The first iteration of this device was called the LouseBuster.  When it was decided that the device needed a cosmetic facelift (it still looked like something only a scientist could love) the name of the updated model was changed to AirAllé®.

The genesis of all this lice-related activity started in the 1980’s and early 1990’s in England where Dr. Clayton was studying basic aspects of the biology of birds and their feather lice.  For reasons of basic research, Dr. Clayton successfully cultured lice in birds. However, when he moved to the University of Utah in 1996, he found that it was very difficult to keep lice alive in the same species of birds that he was using in England.  It turns out that the arid climate of Utah was killing his lice.  He determined that the large surface to volume ratio of these flat insects makes them highly vulnerable to desiccation. Once he added steam to his culture rooms, the lice thrived.

Around this same time, Dr. Clayton’s school-aged children contracted head lice, which he tried to treat with traditional OTC chemicals.  The OTC products were not very effective, and drawing on his experience with the bird lice, he theorized that it might be possible to control head lice by reducing the level of humidity near the scalp.  He kicked into high tinkering mode and over the next several years devised a variety of methods, ranging from the use of chemical desiccants, to heat caps fitted with electrodes, to rice bag caps heated in a microwave, to various hair dryers and blowers up to the size of a leaf blower.  Testing was performed on student volunteers – including Clayton’s own children – many of whom were temporarily infested with head lice.

These tests showed that it is not feasible to control head lice using existing hair dryers – handheld or bonnet style. A combination of heat and high-volume airflow is required to dehydrate the lice.  The air in the bonnet-style hair dryers is static and cannot kill lice unless the temperature is much hotter than a person can tolerate. Conventional blow driers are dangerously hot and can cause burns when directed at one location for a long enough time necessary to desiccate lice.  They also tend to mat the hair, effectively protecting the lice from the effects of the moving, hot air.

Eventually is appeared possible that lice and their eggs could be killed on the head with a custom-built device that combines fast-moving heated air, a precise angle of application, and the right duration of treatment. This version of the device was the LouseBuster.  In 2006 a paper was published in the journal Pediatrics comparing the success of the different kinds of hair dryers relative to the LouseBuster device for killing head lice and their eggs.

Larada Sciences, Inc., which incorporated in 2006, formed to take the LouseBuster product to market.

A follow-up study was published in the Journal of Medical Entomology in 2011 that showed the LouseBuster was highly effective at killing lice and eggs, even in the hands of novices.

 

Of Lice and Men – A Brief History of Head Lice & Treatments

Louse:

  1. Any wingless blood sucking insect of the order Anoplura: includes Pediculus capitis (head louse).
  2. Slang an unpleasant or mean person

Lice probably developed about 1.7 million years before modern humans emerged, and evolved with humans as we evolved from chimpanzees.  The oldest tangible evidence of human head lice?  A nit found on the hair of a 10,000-year-old body in Brazil.  And more recently – albeit still prehistoric – intact nits on the heads of ancient mummified Romans and Egyptians.   Even lice combs have been found in the Egyptian tombs (it is believed that Cleopatra had solid gold lice combs buried with her).

historical head lice image

Head lice have been so pervasive throughout human history that lice and lice outbreaks have snuck into our everyday collective literacy. The “louse” is synonymous with bad and cruel behavior. “Lousy” is defined as “very poor or bad, disgusting.” A nitwit is someone or something stupid, and a nitpicker is someone who is overly critical. And any time somebody refers to go through something “with a fine toothed comb,” you are referring back to the most ancient of head-lice treatments.

And while that’s interesting, what is probably more relevant to you is that the battle between humans and lice has been going on almost as long as human history using a variety of tactics, but with little change effectiveness – until now!

The first documented treatment of head lice?  The Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical guide from around 1550 B.C.  For driving away fleas and lice, it recommends combining warm date meal and water in the mouth and then spitting it on to the skin.   Documents from China dated around 1200 B.C. indicate they used mercury and arsenic compounds.  In 1100 A.D. a Rabbi declared that it was permitted to remove head lice on the Sabbath.  By 450 B.C., Egyptians endorsed shaving all hair from the body to eradicate lice.

The first significant advance didn’t come until about 100 A.D. when the Chinese discovered a natural and effective insecticide extracted from chrysanthemums dubbed Pyrethrum powder.  Marco Polo proclaimed Pyrethrum powder to be a near magical compound and brought it to Europe in 1300 A.D.  Jump ahead several centuries to the 1940s when a more refined extract of pyrethrum was developed, Pyrethrin, which indeed was effective at killing head lice (but less so at killing eggs/nits). In 1977, Permethrin, a synthetic version of Pyrethrin, was introduced as a head-lice treatment product.

As of today, 80% of over-the-counter lice products contain some form of Pyrethrin.  However, lice are evolutionary survivors and have developed resistance to the pesticides in these products.  Resistance to both forms of Pyrethrin have been being documented as early as 1999.

So, despite these products, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still concedes that there are 6-12 million cases of head lice in the United States each year (although accurate data is difficult to acquire because reporting is inconsistent because many parents hide the condition from their schools and doctors).

There is good news, however!  In 2006, a new type of medical device was developed by Larada Sciences, the AirAllé.  This is the first FDA-cleared medical device clinically proven to kill head lice and lice eggs. The device uses controlled heated air to dehydrate head lice and eggs.  The treatment only requires about an hour and has been clinically show to kill 99.2% of lice eggs in children and adults.  Lice Clinics of America Sacramento is proud to be the exclusive provider of the AirAllé head-lice treatment.