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How long do louse eggs take to hatch? A possible answer to an age-old riddle

Authors

  • I. F. BURGESS

    Corresponding author
    1. Medical Entomology Centre, Insect Research & Development Ltd, Cambridge, U.K.
    • Correspondence: Ian F. Burgess, Medical Entomology Centre, Insect Research & Development Ltd, 6 Quy Court, Colliers Lane, Stow-cum-Quy, Cambridge CB25 9AU, U.K. Tel.: + 44 1223 810070; Fax: + 44 1223 810078; E-mail: ian@insectresearch.com

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Abstract

There are no rigorous data on how long eggs of the head louse, Pediculus capitis (Phthiraptera: Pediculidae), take to hatch. Pediculicide users often report re-infestations after apparently successful treatments in the absence of infective contacts. This study aimed to resolve the question of whether some louse eggs hatch after the completion of treatment, thereby giving rise to a new infestation. Data were extracted from the records of lice collected after treatments in 20 clinical intervention trials. All datasets were eliminated except those in which only newly hatched louse nymphs were found prior to the final assessment. This excluded the possibility that new eggs were laid after the first treatment and thus any young lice found must have originated from eggs laid before the start of treatment. This identified 23 of 1895 (1.2%) records with evidence of louse nymphs emerging at 13 days or more after the first treatment, 3–6 days longer than previous estimates. Current treatment regimens for pediculicides of two applications 7–10 days apart appear inadequate, which may explain continuing infestation in the community. Therefore, it is suggested that a revised approach using three treatments applied at intervals of 1 week should prevent the survival of any nymphs and their development into a new generation of adults.

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