TUESDAY, Sept. 7, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A new treatment for head lice, the bane of parents, children and educators alike, promises to get rid of the pesky critters without the unenviable chores of nit-picking and housecleaning.
The treatment, called Nuvo, is a lotion that is applied to the child's head, then dried using a hair dryer. The lotion forms a "shrink-wrapped" film that suffocates the lice. The dried lotion is left on for a minimum of eight hours.
Moreover, the treatment does not use chemicals that can be dangerous and to which lice have already become resistant.
The complete treatment is done once a week for three weeks, according to the inventor of the lotion, Dr. Dale Lawrence Pearlman of Family Dermatology in Menlo Park, Calif. The treatment does not reliably kill eggs, which is why it is repeated over several weeks, he added.
"It is possible to cure people of head lice without any neurotoxins, without removing the nits, and without doing extensive household cleanup," Pearlman said. "This is a very exciting discovery, and it could potentially replace everything on the shelf."
Experts said that if Pearlman delivers on what he has promised, the therapy could be a godsend. Others, however, noting that he is the inventor and stands to benefit financially, aren't completely convinced.
"You don't have to remove the little stuck-on eggs -- nits," Pearlman explained. "For parents and kids, this is an unbelievable hassle that takes four or five days, several hours a day, of combing to pry off the stuck-on eggs."
To prove his point, Pearlman used his treatment on 133 children with head lice in two open trials. In the first trial, 93 subjects received the treatment combined with combing out the nits. In the second trial, 40 subjects received the same treatments, but the nits were not combed out.
Pearlman found that 97 percent of the children in the first trial were cured, as were 95 percent of the children in the second trial. After six months, 94 percent of the subjects from the first trial remained lice-free, as did 95 percent of the children from the second trial, according to his report in the September issue of Pediatrics.
"If it's really true, it sounds wonderful," said Dr. Barbara Frankowski, a professor of pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital. Her concerns are whether it is safe and affordable. If so, "it could really be a boon to parents," Frankowski said. "It could put to rest the whole issue of no-nits policies in schools." Many school systems won't allow pupils back into the classroom until the nits are gone.
In addition, lice cannot become resistant to the lotion, as has happened with other treatments. "You can't develop a resistance to suffocation," Frankowski said.
According to Pearlman, the product is completely safe. After treating more than 200 patients, there have not been any adverse effects, he said.
In addition to curing head lice, the lotion is a foolproof way of diagnosing the problem. "The same lotion put on and then combed out, and put on a special pad, and you can see lice," Pearlman said. This is also the way to check whether lice remain after treatment, he noted.
Pearlman said the product is not commercially available yet, but he is looking for a company to produce it. Pearlman holds the U.S. and worldwide patents on Nuvo.
"Head lice need not be viewed as a terrible ordeal, there is a simple fix that works," Pearlman said. "You don't have to expose your children to progressively more powerful and potentially dangerous poisons."
Deborah Altschuler, president of the National Pediculosis Association, isn't ready to start singing the praises of this new treatment just yet.
She questions the results of Pearlman's study, both because he is the inventor and has a financial interest in its success and because the method used in the study was not scientific.
"New research for alternative head lice treatment is always encouraging," she said. "However, it is difficult to rely heavily on this report," since he is the patent holder.
"In addition, the lack of a blinding, randomization and control groups or therapeutic comparative group, is indeed limiting and of concern. Its publication in a peer-reviewed journal is puzzling, given these basic study weaknesses," Altschuler added.
The National Pediculosis Association can tell you about head lice.