The in vivo pediculicidal effectiveness of 1% and 2% formulations of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil (TTO) against sheep chewing lice (Bovicola ovis) was tested in two pen studies. Immersion dipping of sheep shorn two weeks before treatment in both 1% and 2% formulations reduced lice to non detectable levels. No lice were found on any of the treated sheep despite careful inspection of at least 40 fleece partings per animal at 2, 6, 12 and 20 weeks after treatment. In the untreated sheep louse numbers increased from a mean (± SE) of 2.4 (± 0.7) per 10 cm fleece part at 2 weeks to 12.3 (± 4.2) per part at 20 weeks. Treatment of sheep with 6 months wool by jetting (high pressure spraying into the fleece) reduced louse numbers by 94% in comparison to controls at two weeks after treatment with both 1% and 2% TTO formulations. At 6 and 12 weeks after treatment reductions were 94% and 91% respectively with the 1% formulation and 78% and 84% respectively with the 2% formulation. TTO treatment also appeared to reduce wool damage in infested sheep. Laboratory studies indicated that tea tree oil 'stripped' from solution with a progressive reduction in concentration as well as volume as more wool was dipped, indicating that reinforcement of active ingredient would be required to maintain effectiveness when large numbers of sheep are treated. The results of these studies suggest significant potential for the development of ovine lousicides incorporating TTO.
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