Plasma treatment for head lice

Between 6 and 12 million children suffer from head lice infestations every year in the U.S. alone. They spread through direct contact (lice and their eggs die within a day or two if they fall on the ground), so it’s common for them to affect children in elementary school where children often come in close contact with each other. Treatment varies from prescription shampoos and lotions to a range of home remedies, which can be unpleasant or irritating, and often must be repeated once or more times to halt an infestation.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films in Germany have come up with a more convenient solution. A special comb is fitted with high-voltage electrodes separated by a small gap. The air between the electrodes becomes ionized, creating plasma. The device creates a high-voltage charge in very short bursts, which creates the plasma without generating a lot of heat. The result is a room temperature treatment that kills both the lice and their eggs (known as “nits”). According to the researchers, tests show that a single treatment kills about half of the lice immediately, and the remainder die within a day.

This approach not only is more convenient and pleasant to use, it also eliminates the need for harsh chemicals that can cause secondary problems for patients with sensitive skin or breathing problems. If this treatment becomes widely adopted, it could make lice infestations a lot less stressful for children and their parents.