Kill Head Lice In A Day With The Newly Developed Plasma Nitcomb From The German Fraunhofer Institute – (Don’t forget to share this important breaking news with those you love) The new must-have household appliance for everyone with children or grandchildren of school age (or any older students who tend to sleep around a bit!). This comb is harmless to the children, does not damage their hair but thoroughly zaps those little bloodsuckers and their eggs. A pet version is on the way!
I am sure I do not need to remind any parent about the horror of discovering your little darling has been infested with head lice. Those initial feelings of guilt – ‘but my children are clean!‘ – and then the accusations ‘have you been playing with that dirty little Tommy at number 9?‘. The embarrassment of that first trip to the chemist to buy the most powerful head-lice treatment they have… and a nit comb – hoping they provide you with a plain brown bag to take them home in. And then realisation that one session is not enough and that you need to scrub your little darlings’ heads again after a week to kill off any nit eggs that survived the first delousing session.
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Finally you have to go through the pain of discovering, only a few weeks later, that your baby’s unwanted bloodsucking guests have returned again. Yes – you were too shy to mention ‘your’ problem to the parents of you children’s friends to enlist them into a regional ‘cleansing’ team. It is no good simply delousing your own darlings if their pals are still infested. So the sorry tale of our battle against the louse goes on. What’s worse is that lice have no respect for position or money – send your children to the best private schools and you can certainly be assured of a much better class of head-lice.
Now, with the latest technological development from Germany, there is hope for the world’s long suffering head lice victims (and their parents). The highly respected Fraunhofer Institute has just released details of its Plasma Comb for Head Lice (Plasmakamm). In the past sufferers have had to resort to chemical based products and the classical nit-comb. The chemicals are applied as shampoos, lotions or gels which are usually massaged into the scalp after the hair has been washed.
Following this the hair is thoroughly combed with the traditional nit-comb. The problem with this approach is that although the lice may be killed their eggs usually survive this first treatment. Therefore the treatment has to be repeated after about a week to annihilate any bloodsucking survivors.
This lengthy treatment process is tiresome for the children as well as being uncomfortable and often painful. Many parents would prefer not to use the chemical based products – some of the active ingredients can be harmful to small children. As more and more people use these chemicals head lice are developing resistance and the treatments are becoming ineffective. Only resistant insects survive and their numbers increase because widespread treatment with the chemicals is destroying their non-resistant competitors. By continued use of these chemicals we encourage the growth of the resistant strains by providing them with nice clean ‘competitor free’ heads to suck blood from.
By killing the non resistant lice we are also making it much easier for the resistant ones to find resistant partners. And you know what happens then – they have lots of super resistant offspring.
Time for the storm troupers with their high-tech weaponry – the Plasma based Nit-zapper from the Fraunhoffer Institute in Göttingen (Anwendungszentrums für Plasma und Photonik des Fraunhofer-Instituts für Schicht- und Oberflächentechnik IST known locally as the Nit STASI) This specially adapted comb (pictured at the top of this article) creates what is referred to as a cold plasma which painlessly, but very effectively, kills the lice as well as their eggs. Its application does not require the use of any chemicals or biocides.
What is a plasma? Well here it is simply air – the comb uses the potential difference between two electrodes (like that between the two terminals of a household battery) to turn a gas, in this case air, into a plasma. The voltage difference used by the electrodes in the comb is harmless to the patient but is sufficient to generate the plasma which destroys the lice. These electrodes are included in the teeth of the comb and the plasma they create is localised in the area of the hair being combed. For those with a basic understanding of school physics the comb is creating and then separating electrons and positive ions in the air and it is this excess of localised charged particles that the lice can not survive.
The pulse of electrical potential difference needed to create the plasma is only generated by the comb for a very short period time. There is just sufficient energy to charge the sub-atomic particles so they can destroy the lice. Professor Dr. Viöl who is in charge of the Application Centre for Plasma and Photonik points out in the Fraunhofer Institute report that: ‘The whole operation is at room temperature and although lice are killed there is no damage or injury to the patient’s head‘.
The comb contains batteries to create the high voltage potential difference. After just a single comb through of the hair about half of the lice are killed. This means that they can be eradicated from the head within a single day. According to Professor Dr. Viöl the comb, following comprehensive safety and effectiveness tests, has already been introduced into regional children’s clinics and can be used just like a normal comb or brush.
It is believed that this approach will be particularly beneficial to patients known to suffer from asthma or allergies. They will be spared the need to be treated using the aggressive active ingredients found in existing medications. Clearly the avoidance of using chemical products will also benefit the environment. The use of biocides against lice is also rendered redundant.
In fact Dr Viöl has pointed out that with some modifications to the spacing between the teeth in the Plasma Comb this treatment should also be applicable to use with pets which can also suffer from unpleasant insect infestations in their fur.
Like many readers of this article I too have not been unscathed by these little bloodsucking insects (OK this is Chris’s ‘coming out’ time!). I also had to endure periods in my childhood having my scalp treated for those uninvited visitors. In fact I would like to dedicate this article to my girl friend Sally who helped me to get through such a period during my time as a student ‘up-north’. Our adventures with ‘the louse’ are documented in the following educational video:
The research team at the Fraunhofer Institute has already protected this novel technology with a patent and is now in the process of developing the plasma comb to be marketed to potential customers. More information, including a German language press release, can be obtained from the Fraunhofer Institute using the link here.
Chris Duggleby started his scientific career studying Bacteriology, Virology and Immunology at the Manchester University Medical School. From there he went on to spend over 35 in the chemicals and oil industries which included setting up a polymers research and development group in Geneva, Switzerland for a major international chemicals company. Following an MBA from Warwick University he went on to lead a number of international manufacturing and marketing operations in the Chemicals, Plastics and Oil industries. His work involved living and working in Europe, Asia, the USA, the Middle East, and Russia. More recently he was invited to take on a senior leadership position in the Audit Department of the BP International Oil Group. Here he used his global change and risk management experience to help the group reshape its management structures and processes following a major environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He has now retired to focus on writing about risk management and producing music in his studios near London, in the Alps and Cape Town. If you are interested in risk management check out his RiskTuition.com or BizChangers.com (management of change) sites.
If you found this article interesting please consider taking a look at some of my other recent reports on similar subjects.
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