A louse is a small wingless, blood-sucking insect which infests the hair and skin. These parasites are spread mainly by contact with an infested person as well as their combs, brushes, caps and other clothing. Lice may affect all socioeconomic groups and are not necessarily a result of poor hygiene. Three types of lice that can infest humans, they are: the head, the body and pubic lice.

The head louse is the most common. These lice may be easily passed from child to child as they share hair brushes and hats, and play closely together.  They can infest adults. The most prominent symptom is itching, especially on the sides and back of the head. The scalp may become irritated from scratching. The louse may be seen with the naked eye. The eggs or nits firmly attach to the hairs (at right). If your children have been in contact with someone who has lice, they should be examined carefully and be treated.  A health care practitioner should be contacted to start treatment which usually consists of washing the hair with a lice product. The products are pesticides and require caution when using. After treatment, the nits should be combed or picked out. Other members should also be examined, but only those found to be infested should be treated.

The body louse is rarer, and causes severe itching. It hides inside clothing especially near the seams. The skin may show small dots where the lice feed off the skin. The scratching may bring on an eczema like eruption. The upper back is a common site. Treatment with topical therapy and dry cleaning or a hot water clothes wash followed by steam ironing to eliminate the eggs. It is important to vacuum mattresses and couches, and to thoroughly wash bed linens, pillow cases and blankets.

The pubic louse is primarily found on the pubic hair but can also be found on the abdomen, thighs, underarms or even eyelashes. These lice cling either to the hair or the skin. They look like tiny crabs and many people also call them crab louse. The affected skin may show small red dots, faint bluish colored patches as well as the rust colored excrement of the louse. The pubic louse can be spread easily from person to person with intimate contact. Treatment is the same as the removal of head lice. Lice on the eyelashes should be removed with tweezers or by applying Vaseline.