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Say 'Aaah' | Booster Shots

Head Lice Can Look Groovy in Black Light

June 19, 2000|Rosie Mestel

Hey, guys! Having head lice can be fun!

OK, that's probably pushing it. But it can, at least, be less obnoxious, insists Dr. Sydney Spiesel, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Yale University and a private-practice pediatrician. He's made that awful nit-combing job easier, he says, with a special shampoo.

It's got a chemical in it that binds to louse eggs, making them glow "a bright bluish white, quite pretty," under an ultraviolet--or "black"--light. (He's considering calling the patented-but-not-yet-available shampoo HeadLights.)

Inspiration struck a few years back, Spiesel says, after a nasty series of head lice outbreaks in New Haven, Conn., day-care centers.

These days, lice have gotten pretty resistant to a lot of the louse-killing shampoos on the market, making it even more important to comb out all the louse eggs. Trouble is, those nits are hard to see. And kids can get pretty whiny sitting still for long stretches while their heads get teased.

Passions started running high among the day-care center families after kids' heads got repeatedly reinfested. Parents pointed accusing fingers at each other, convinced they'd done a good job combing nits but those other moms and dads were falling down on the job. Spiesel was brought in to cool things down and demonstrate the proper art of nit-combing.

As he stood there combing through a kid's tresses for a full 45 minutes, it struck him: There had to be an easier way. He cast his mind back to his biology training and remembered certain bright dyes that stick tight to insect skeletons. What if louse eggs were made of the same kind of stuff?

Some splashing around in the chemistry lab soon revealed that they were.

One memorable night, Spiesel arranged his whole family--wife, kids, his son's fiancee--around the kitchen table. With a theatrical flourish, he produced a hair with a nit attached to it, dipped it into the dye, then drew it out and held it under the light.

Ta-da! The louse egg glowed brightly.

"'They went oooh and aaah--they were pretty impressed," he says.

"But I really knew I was onto something, frankly, when I was telling a mother in the practice--also a doctor--about it, and her 8-year-old daughter said, 'Oh, Mommy! I want some lice!' "

Youngest of the Litter Aren't Mental Runts

Here's some more good news--for people born into large families, that is--especially if they're one of the family's younger members.

Earlier research had suggested that later-born kids, and kids from large families, tend to have lower IQs than firstborns and kids from small families. (As No. 3 in a family of four, I've never particularly liked this finding.)

Now new research, published in the June issue of American Psychologist, suggests that these earlier results are flawed.

In the new study, scientists from four universities analyzed data on 11,406 people, ages 14 to 22 in 1972, whose academic performances have been periodically assessed over 22 years. They found no intelligence link to birth order or family size. They conclude that the earlier-reported link stems from technical problems in the way that the numbers were crunched--and that people like me are not necessarily relative dunderheads.

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If you have an idea for an item in Booster Shots, write or e-mail Rosie Mestel (Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012 or rosie.mestel@latimes.com).

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