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, or with their combs, brushes, hats, and other clothing. Lice can affect all socioeconomic groups and are not necessarily a result of poor hygiene. Three types of lice that can infest humans are head lice, body lice and pubic lice.
The most commonly encountered type of lice, head lice may be easily passed from adults and children as they share hairbrushes and hats or come into close contact with one another. The most prominent symptom is itching, especially on the sides and back of the head, and the scalp may become irritated from scratching. The eggs, or nits, firmly attach to head hairs and both the lice and eggs can be seen with the naked eye.
- Contact a health care practitioner to start treatment which usually involves washing the hair with a lice product. These products are pesticides and require caution when using.
- Following treatment, the nits should be combed or picked out
- Examine other parts of the body, but only those found to be infested should be treated
Rarer than the head louse, body lice can cause severe itching. These lice hide inside clothing, especially near the seams. The skin, most commonly the upper back, may show small dots where the lice have been feeding. Scratching may bring on an eczema like eruption.
- Use topical therapy on skin (use only as directed by the label)
- Dry clean or wash clothes in hot water followed by steam ironing to eliminate the eggs
- Vacuum mattresses and couches
- Thoroughly wash and dry bed linens, pillowcases, and blankets
Pubic (Crab) Louse
Primarily found on the pubic hair, these lice can also be found on the abdomen, thighs, underarms or even eyelashes. They cling either to the hair or the skin and look like tiny crabs; many people also call them crab lice. The affected skin may show small red dots, faint bluish-colored patches, and rust-colored excrement from the louse. The pubic louse can be spread easily from person to person with intimate contact.
- Follow the same procedures as for the removal of head lice
- Lice on the eyelashes should be removed with tweezers or by applying Vaseline
Head Louse photo by Gilles San Martin
Body Louse photo by Janice Harney Carr, Center for Disease Control