Wee Beasties of the Scalp Forest

Sunday, June 01, 1997
Why did Charles Naspitz recently vacuum the heads of 38 Brazilian children? Naspitz, an allergist at the Federal University of São Paulo, and Enrique Fernández-Caldas, an expert on parasites at Leti Laboratories in Madrid, were curious to know whether house-dust mites--minute scavengers of human skin flakes that infest carpets, beds, clothes, and even cuddly toys- -might also take refuge on a child’s scalp. Apparently, no one had thought to look there before, but the question is important because proteins in the mites’ fecal pellets trigger asthma attacks. Using a handheld vacuum cleaner, Naspitz hoovered the heads of 29 asthmatic children and 9 children without allergies. All had freshly washed hair. Among both groups, some scalps turned out to be mite-free; others had as many as 30 mites of the species Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, shown here grazing on a dandruff flake. Fernández-Caldas thinks the mites migrate from infested pillows and mattresses onto the children. I suggest the first step to control the presence of mites on the head, he says, is to control mites in pillows and bedding.
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