As the school year looms, so does the threat of head lice infestations, with parents and children groaning with frustration as heads are painstakingly combed and sheets, towels and toys are boiled. And rinse and repeat, when the pests come back.
Now, a Tel Aviv-based startup, ParaSonic, has developed a device that it says will kill both lice and their eggs in one shot, without the use of chemicals that can cause the lice to develop resistance.
For the few who have not had the pleasure of encountering these creepy crawlies, head lice are tiny insects that live on the scalp of humans — they prefer the comfort of the nape and behind the ears and lay nits, or eggs, that attach to the hair with glue. The symptoms are scratching, when the scalp reacts to the saliva of lice. Both the lice and the nits can be seen by parting the hair. Most people get the lice directly from other people, usually children, through head-to-head contact.
Reliable data on head lice infestations each year in the US is not available, but it is estimated that some 6 million to 12 million people get infested each year in the US among children 3 to 11 years of age, according to data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Preventive practices like head shaving and the “no-nit” policy of excluding infected children from school can also be stressful situations both for parents and the children.
Existing treatments, like the FDA approved AirAlle, which was developed by Lice Clinics of America, was found to be effective against lice and super-lice — those which had developed resistance. But each treatment costs around $170.
“The treatments used in clinics in the US use high heat, and that is effecing in killing the lice,” said David Tavor, the CEO of ParaSonic. “But the process is unpleasant and painful and expensive.”
ParaSonic is still developing the final design of its product, which it hopes to launch by the second quarter of 2018, initially in Israel and the US. The medical device, which Tavor said has already obtained US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, consists of a computer-mouse-like handheld instrument that has a comb at its front. The device emits ultrasonic low-energy waves in parallel to the scalp that reach the lice and eggs and kills them.
“Ultrasonic technology is not new,” said Tavor. “But the idea to use it for lice, as we do, is new.”
The company has registered a number of patents, he said.
The product will come with an ultrasonic wave emitter, a charger, two disposable combs and a gel. Users will need to section the scalp, rub the treated area with the gel and then comb the hair with the electronic mouse-device. So, unfortunately there is still no respite from the combing process.
The combs will need to be replaced after each treatment and followup kits will be sold with just the gel and the combs for use when needed, Tavor explained. The followup kits will cost a few dollars, he said, while the starter kit, with the device itself, may cost up to $100 dollars. The final price has not yet been finalized, he said.
The target audience will be both clinics — with a larger instrument planned for professional use — and end users who will be able to buy the product at their local stores, Tavor said.
The firm was founded 2014 by Mor Cohen, today the firm’s 37-year old chief operating officer, who suffered from lice-combings when she was little and saw the suffering of her friends with their kids.
ParaSonic raised $1.6 million last week from a private US investor, after having raised NIS 3 million (some $836,000) from the NGT3 incubator and Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry’s Chief Scientist.
NGT3 is a venture capital fund with European, American and Israeli partners who aim to invest in early-stage technology startups that have a social agenda.
ParaSonic is looking to raise an additional $2 million as it goes to market with its product, Tavor said.
He also called on the Education Ministry in Israel to take a more aggressive approach in fighting lice infestations.
“Even after treatment, Israeli children get lice again because their friends have lice,” he said. It’s the ministry’s responsibility to make sure that the problem of lice is addressed inschools, with someone on site to perform regular checks, he said.
Lice infestation is a matter of faulty personal hygiene and is the responsibility of parents, the Education Ministry said in an emailed comment. The ministry prohibits schools from turning away students with lice.