Although a nuisance, lice are generally not life threatening. There are 3 types of lice; head lice, body lice and pubic “crab” lice.
Head lice are most commonly found among pre-school and elementary age children along with household members of infested children. Head lice are found almost exclusively on the scalp, particularly around and behind the ears and near the neckline at the back of the head, although they can also be found on the eyebrows and eyelashes. These lice feed on human blood and don’t survive long if they fall off of a person and cannot feed.
Infestation occurs from close person to person contact– lice move by crawling and cannot hop or fly. Dogs, cats and pets do not play a role in the spread of head lice and they are not known to spread disease.
Although it’s uncommon, head lice can be spread by sharing clothing or belongings.
Signs and symptoms of head lice include:
- Tickling feeling of something moving in the hair.
- Difficulty sleeping– lice are most active in the dark.
- Sores on head from scratching.
- Over the counter or prescription medications are available. Follow instructions on the package and see a doctor if they persist. It’s important to use a nit comb to remove all nits.
- Wash clothing, linens and other items with hot water (130 degrees) and dry on a high heat setting.
- Soak combs and brushes in hot water.
- Vacuum all carpets and flooring.
- Do not use fumigant sprays, they can be toxic if they are inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
Body lice live and lay eggs on clothing and only move to skin to feed. They can be found on clothing and bedding, usually in the seams. Body lice are known to spread diseases including Typhus, Trench Fever, or Louse-Born Relapsing Fever.
This variety of lice are spread by close human contact but are generally limited to people living under conditions of crowding and poor hygiene such as the homeless and refugees. Dogs, cats and other pets do not play a role in spreading these lice.
Signs and Symptoms
- Intense itching.
- Heavily bitten skin can become thickened and discolored, especially around the midsection of the body.
- Itching can lead to scratching and sores that can become infected.
- Improved hygiene and access to regular changes of clean clothes (at least weekly) is the only treatment needed.
- Clothing, bedding and towels should be laundered using hot water (130 degrees) and dried using a hot setting.
- Medicine is generally not required but can be recommended by a doctor.
Pubic “Crab” Lice
This type of lice is typically found attached to pubic hair, although it can also be found on course hair elsewhere (eyebrows, eyelashes, beards, mustaches, chest hair and armpits.)
Pubic lice are usually spread through sexual contact and all persons infested should be checked for other sexually transmitted diseases. All sex partners from within the previous month should be informed they are at risk.
Dogs, cats and other pets do not play a role in spreading the lice.
Signs and Symptoms
- Itching in the genital area.
- Visible nits (eggs) or crawling lice.
Over the counter and prescription medications are available. Follow instructions on the package and remove any remaining nits with fingernail or nit comb.
Clothing, bedding and towels should be washed in hot water (130 degrees) and dried using a hot setting.
For more information: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/