Background: Many families find regular checking of children’s heads for head louse infestation too onerous and would prefer to be able to prevent infestation by use of a topical application that deters lice from infesting the head. Identification in the laboratory of a repellent activity for piperonal provided the basis for developing a spray product to repel lice.
Methods: A proof of principle field study in Dhaka, Bangladesh, compared the effect of using 2% piperonal spray with that of a placebo in 105 children and adults from three communities with infestation levels close to 100%. All participants were treated for infestation and subsequent incidence of reinfestation monitored daily by investigators. A second randomised, controlled, double blind, study in North London, UK, evaluated the effect of the product in normal use. One hundred and sixty-three children from schools with a high level (20-25%) of infestation were treated and confirmed louse free and randomly divided between 2% piperonal, a placebo spray, and a control group for up to 22 weeks. Parents applied the spray and monitored for infestation. Regular investigator visits confirmed the parental monitoring and replenished supplies of spray.
Results: In Dhaka, over 18 days there were only 4 infestations in the piperonal group and 8 in the placebo group. This difference was not significant (p = 0.312). In North London, there were 41 cases of infestation over the course of the study. Analysis of time to first infestation showed a non-significant (p = 0.4368) trend in favour of piperonal.
Conclusion: Routine use of 2% piperonal spray in communities with a high prevalence of head louse infestation may provide some protection from infestation. However, the difference between use of the product and no active intervention was sufficiently small that regular checking for presence of lice is likely to be a more practical and cost effective approach to prevention of infestation.